Shop2Help helps local businesses, food banks


Clare Sheedy | Staff Photographer

The Pitt Shop on Forbes Avenue is one of the stores participating in Shop2Help Oakland, a program created by the Oakland Business Improvement District to help businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Andrew Thompson, For The Pitt News

Georgia Petropoulos saw an opportunity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to help both local businesses and community members in need.

Petropoulos, the executive director of the Oakland Business Improvement District, started the Shop2Help Oakland program in October to help businesses suffering from the pandemic. The program helps businesses by giving customers the opportunity to buy a $35 gift card for $25 from any business that is involved in the program, and a portion of that money goes to Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.

“[The] number one priority is to help the restaurants and the businesses that were hit really hard from the COVID pandemic,” Petropoulos said. “So we need to find strategies to keep the doors open and to keep money coming through their door and customers shopping.”

Petropoulos said OBID’s positive relationship with the Oakland business community aided in spreading the news about the Shop2Help program at a fast pace.

“We have a really good relationship with our business community, we get to connect with them through various means, whether we put it out every two weeks or put on a newsletter that we reach them through social media,” Petropoulos said. “But really, it’s also one on one and word of mouth. So we have good relationships and connections.”

Petropoulos said 20 businesses have partnered with the OBID for the program, including Stack’d, Dave and Andy’s Homemade Ice Cream and Hieber’s Pharmacy. She said the hope is for customers to use these gift cards and help out local businesses.

“First of all, the customers are going to use that gift card. They’ll cash it in, but even more so, they’ll cash it in and they’ll consider maybe even spending more. So if you purchased $35 gift card, you know, the hope would be that maybe you spend $50 or $60 if you bought more food and more products for yourself and for more people,” Petropoulos said. “So no matter what, it’s getting people in the door to get cash in the hands of the business owner.”

Petropoulos said another beneficial part of the program is that it not only helps the business part of the community, but also those who rely on food banks for meals.

“The other thing, too, I should note, and this is where I really have to commend the business community, they’re actually not getting the full amount of the gift card,” Petropoulos said. “There’s a portion of the gift card that’s actually being donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank. And there’s a certain degree to this. When they sign up, they’re aware that they are going to get reimbursed for their gift card, that they’re going to get reimbursed less — 25%, which is being donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.”

She said helping with local food needs was a “no brainer.”

“I mean, there’s also a dire need for help in getting food to people. I mean, that’s what was exposed in the cupboard under the pandemic. We had so many people that were in need of getting basics, rent, housing, food, because they were out of work,” Petropoulos said.

Petropoulos said the program plans to continue as long as possible.

“The goal of this program is to continue the cycle of funding for businesses and giving money to the food bank, just till we run out of money for the program, I mean, honestly, this has been so successful, it’s so important,” Petropoulos said. “We really just want to keep encouraging people to invest in these gift cards because it is helping the business owner get cash in the door as well as help the food bank.”

Michelle Sarah — a manager at Stack’d, a burger restaurant at the corner of Oakland and Forbes avenues — said the program can benefit the business.

“We’re being on the college campus here and we’re honestly always pretty busy,” Sarah said, “but I have seen a good bit of turnout from the gift cards, which helped me know if that’s helping the business or not. I have seen a good bit of the gift cards being used.”

Andrew Hardy, owner and a founder of Dave and Andy’s Ice Cream, said he has had an overall positive experience with the Shop2Help program ever since it started. He said joining this program would help increase business and help others in need.

“Well, we’ve been hanging in there the whole time of the program,” Hardy said, “So just because, you know, it’s distributing, it’s advertising and, you know, giving people money to spend it. Always a bonus.”

Petropoulos said participating in the program benefits both businesses and the local community, making it a “win-win.”

“It’s a win-win for the customer. They get more bang for the dollar,” Petropoulos said. “You’re helping the employee. You’re helping the owners. You’re helping our community.”

A previous version of this story referred to OBID’s executive director as Georgia Petropolis. Her name is Georgia Petropoulos. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Pitt News regrets this error.