‘Non-essential businesses are essential’; 2 local firefighters helping in a big way


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – Some of the hardest-hit places economically are the non-essential small businesses that have been forced to close their doors during the coronavirus pandemic.

These locations are considered non-essential because they are not relied on daily by the public, but they are still important to the community. As a way to show this, two Chesapeake firefighters found a unique way to give back to those small businesses in need.

Travis Robertson has served on the Chesapeake Fire Department for 13 years and Ryan McFadden for 16, and these guys are out there every day on the streets. Not only are they helping the citizens, but they see the impact this epidemic has on their community.

So, it is no surprise that getting these small businesses back on track has become a personal mission for them since it really hits home.

“Sometimes things happen that push you to get out and do something and this just happens to be it for me. We joined the fire department for that very mission, to HELP,” said Robertson.

Deciding they wanted to help was the easy part, figuring out how — that was the hard part.

Since the beginning of the shutdown, Robertson has wanted to find a way to do something to give back in a big way but on a personal level. Something that was more than just a donation.

“I didn’t just want to donate money never seeing the face of the person. I wanted to have a personal connection with the people we helped,” said Robertson. “To show, ‘our community has come together to help a fellow member of our community.’ I believe that if we step up and prove we feel strongly about this, then other people in our community would feel the same.”

After keeping an eye on social media patterns, Robertson noticed combinations of similar words and hashtags that were trending.

“I started noticing #SupportLocal and similar hashtags appear within captions on social media. I kept thinking it was such a catchy slogan that I could really get behind,” he said.

He followed his gut and did some research; the U.S. Patent trademark website had no one registered to that name. Knowing this was the start of something bigger and without hesitation, he submitted paperwork to register and trademark the name #SupportLocal.

The following day, he told McFadden and after talking, the guys decided to move forward and start a charitable cause. It took some time bouncing ideas back and forth, and trying to figure out how to make it work and make it unique.

“We came up with the idea of making T-shirts that represented Virginia and would also address the fact that we were supporting our community; #SupportLocal,” Robertson explained.

When you purchase a shirt for $20.00 plus shipping — 25% of your purchase will go directly to a local business in need of financial support. Currently, there are three shirt options and with more support down the road, the team can open the line to totes, hats, and decals.

The shirts are just the beginning and this is more about a brand. A name that shows how strong the community is and when people see #SupportLocal, they recognize it as a staple — a connection between people that have come together to support and give during a time of crisis.

“If you don’t deal with daily hardships or haven’t dealt with any life alerting tragedies, then I would say you are very fortunate. We all have our own hurdles in life to deal with. If, by taking a chance to start #SupportLocal to hopefully change the outcome of someone’s life, it’s the least I can do,” Robertson explained. “If we succeed, that would be a great achievement. If we fail, we fail. I will at least know we did not sit back and watch as so many of our local businesses we count on suffer. That is why #SupportLocal is important to me.”

So, how do they select who gets the donations and how often will #SupportLocal donate?

For April, Christine McFadden, Ryan McFadden’s wife, recommended helping a few salons since they are completely shut down. From there, she selected three random salons that the community can vote on using the website poll. At the end of the month, they plan to bring the donation to the winner of the poll, practicing social distancing efforts of course.

“No one ever thought that hard-working Americans could truly lose everything with no say in the matter and through no fault of their own. I have heard very moving stories from local shop owners and their truth is devastating,” said Christine McFadden, marketing and logistics manager. “If we can help one business a month pay their bills or support them with reopening, how awesome would that be?”

As for following months, the poll will be updated with new businesses to vote on.

“The poll was created so everyone knew it was an unbiased way for someone to win. This upcoming month, and months thereafter, we want the community to send submissions to our email, our Facebook, or Instagram letting us know who needs help and why,” said Robertson.

He continued, “We will reach out to them, get their story, learn how they have been affected or what their current circumstances are, and why they need help from us and their community. We will randomly draw a business each month.”

They plan to keep this going as long as they can get support as many businesses will continue to face financial hardships even after the state reopens.

“We have some ideas on how to continue growing after our local business owners are able to open their doors again. There will always be businesses that have done their best to succeed, but they need help.”

In just the first month of launching, the team has seen an overwhelming amount of support. People are sharing the page on Facebook, purchasing shirts, and rocking their new gear using #SupportLocal on social with a shoutout given on the website.

“I have been a part of this community my whole life. Working for CFD for the past 16-years has shown me how much we all need each other; that is not a question,” said Ryan McFadden. “However, when my daughter couldn’t have her ‘dream’ 6th birthday party or go to school to see her favorite teacher/first teacher, Miss Curtis (KD teacher at Bayview Elementary), it hit me; we have to be able to do something to help.”

For them, this is about having a reputable name that businesses can trust. A name that when people see it, they feel a sense of what a true community is.

Additionally, the team has been reaching out to local businesses asking to combine logos on a shirt. When you see #SupportLocal, you will know the company is behind the organization and supporting local businesses. Partnerships are already being formed with NATAC Pressure Washing and Morris Tile Distributors, and hopefully more are to follow.

For more information visit supportlocalva.com.

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