Genevieve Sutherns, 17, was traveling in France on a gap year between high school and college when she got word in March that she'd have to return home immediately because of the global pandemic. At the time, she had plans to visit the Netherlands and Malawi before heading back to her hometown of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, in late April.
Despite the abrupt change in her plans, Sutherns soon realized she could take the opportunity to help out her local community, even while observing social distancing measures at home.
Sutherns' boyfriend, Josh Gray, 19, was creating a delivery service called Guelph Box, and she quickly joined in his efforts. Each week, the two pick about 10 local stores, usually food vendors, and assemble an assortment of their items in a bag that then gets delivered to customers.
Small businesses in Canada have been hard hit by the pandemic. Guelph Box "encourages people to stay home," says Sutherns, and still "support local."
"Guelph is a very local business-oriented town," says Gray, who spoke to seven or eight local businesses as he and Sutherns were hashing out the idea for Guelph Box. The two of them created a site for the service using website building tool Wix and marketed it using tools like Instagram.
Each Guelph box costs buyers about $100 and includes products like coffee beans from local coffee shops and local baked goods.
Guelph Box was launched on March 20, 2020. In their first week, the two sold 83 boxes altogether. As of April 17, they've sold nearly 1,000.
Guelph Box's overhead includes paying the vendors for the products themselves, as well as PayPayl's 3% fee for using the platform. Sutherns and Gray are putting in about 40 hours of work a week to run the business and they are paying themselves for their time. But, they say, the salaries were never the point.
"Some weeks, we make a little bit more than other weeks," says Sutherns. "It's basically enough to cover our time."
Really, she says, "The point here is to help vendors."
Sutherns and Gray also estimated it would cost about $5 per box for delivery but, luckily, local businesses have been volunteering to make the box deliveries free of charge. So instead, Sutherns and Gray have been donating $5 per box to local charities.
"When incomes are being cut," says Sutherns, "charitable giving is also being cut, but it doesn't mean that we need these charities any less in our community."
Sutherns is willing to put off her travel plans. Having saved up $15,000 Canadian, or about $10,700 U.S., throughout high school for this gap year, she has just over $7,000 Canadian (about $5,000 U.S.) left. That money will probably go toward her tuition at the University of British Columbia come fall.
"If anything's left, then hopefully I'll be able to travel next summer or later in my life," she says. With so much going on and her efforts to help out her hometown taking up so much of her time at the moment, she's "not really too concerned" about hitting the road again.
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