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Chamber token program aims to lift up families, restaurants struggling during pandemic

59 restaurants and food trucks accepting the $25 tokens that were distributed to 400 families.
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Gaijin food truck, which serves Asian street food-inspired cuisine, is among the 59 local eateries accepting meal tokens at this time. (Photo by Beckie Hagerman)

Special dining tokens for free meals are being accepted at more than 50 Longmont restaurants in an effort to help low-income families and restaurants and food trucks hurting during the ongoing coronavirus crisis. 

The program, which allows people to redeem tokens at participating eateries, was spearheaded by the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce as part of the wider #Strongmont initiative, which has included two rounds of grants totaling more than $300,000 to support small businesses and help mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic.

“The Longmont Chamber was brought on to administer this program and recruit local restaurants who agree to accept these tokens as payment and then turn them into the chamber for reimbursement,” said Karen Stallard, the chamber’s membership director. “The $25 tokens can only be used at local Longmont restaurants that also need additional support during this challenging economic time. From fine dining to food trucks.”

The list of 59 participating restaurants and food trucks includes nationwide chain restaurants such as Dairy Queen and food trucks like Nacho Mama’s Tacos.

At Rosario’s Peruvian Restaurant near Ken Pratt Boulevard and Main Street, manager Estefany Martinez thinks the tokens have helped promote the business, which has steadily been seeing increased traffic in recent weeks.

“We have had a couple families come in with the tokens,” Martinez said. “We’ve had people who never came into our restaurant before and now they love Peruvian food. Yes, it’s good business for us but it also feels good to know that we’re helping out families.”

The past six months have been a whirlwind of new state regulations, sanitation and backorders from distributors. Restaurants were challenging to run, even before the pandemic. 

“We had to close down for two weeks,” Martinez said. “Once we opened up, for the first month all we did was to-go orders. But we still maintained all of our staff. We were hoping it would eventually come back to normal but we have half the tables we normally have available. Being a restaurant, it’s a little tricky because you have to have so much contact with people and with dishes.”  

Beginning in June, Longmont City Council allocated $10,000 for the token program. Last week, the program received an additional $15,000 contribution from the city and $3,000 from the Walmart Foundation. 

“Longmont identified individual residents and families through a variety of assistance programs with the city to narrow down a list of 400 for the first round,” Stallard said.  “Businesses were interested in supporting something that was a true win all around. I think it's wonderful that the residents who receive these tokens can really enjoy an amazing variety of dining options in this program.” 

Other chamber philanthropic programs also are being affected by the ongoing pandemic. Instead of the chamber hosting its biggest annual holiday fundraiser, Unity in the Community, this year a grant has been established through North Plains Bank. More than $4,500 has been raised so far for local nonprofits.

“I think this represents making the most of where we are at and the true community mindset of Longmont and our businesses to support one another and get through these challenging times together,” Stallard said.