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The organizers: Rahim Noormohamed, Azra Popat and friends

The project: Giftforward, a gift card program to help small businesses during the pandemic

Rahim Noormohamed was talking to a friend last month when the conversation turned to how restaurants would cope during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“He was talking about how he was in a restaurant a few days before the shutdown and it looked pretty empty,” Mr. Noormohamed recalled.

They came up with the idea of selling gift cards that people could redeem later at various restaurants once they’ve reopened. “It’s kind of like a loan and it seemed to us that restaurants would much rather pay back a loan in food than with dollars,” he said.

That led to the creation of Giftforward, an online platform that offers gift cards for restaurants and other small businesses across Toronto. So far the site has signed up 60 outlets and sold $18,000 worth of gift cards. It’s also expanding into the United States and Australia. “I’m getting flooded with e-mails from people who want to do this in their city all over the U.S. and U.K.,” he said.

The site works mainly with businesses that don’t have gift card programs. In addition to restaurants it has also partnered with gyms, nail salons, opticians and a chiropractor. Companies can sign up online and Mr. Noormohamed said it takes about a day to process the application and get the business on the website.

There are no fees and Giftforward is non-profit. “We’re calling it a social good venture,” he added.

Mr. Noormohamed, 28, is from Toronto and he’s pursuing a masters of business administration at Harvard University. He’s still attending classes online and he’s had help running Giftforward from his wife, Azra Popat, and a team of about a dozen people in Toronto. “Most of us had never worked together before and many of us have never met face to face,” he said.

Mr. Noormohamed said he’s just happy to be doing something productive during the lockdown and he’s not sure how long the site will keep operating. “We’ll do this as long we need to do this.”

pwaldie@globeandmail.com

This series looks at how businesses, individuals and community groups are helping in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that the gift cards can be refunded. In fact, in most cases, there are no refunds.