By Pete Mazzaccaro

Bob and Nancy Elfant said they were doing what many of us have done for the past month – stay at home, observing social distancing guidelines and reading the daily news accounts of COVID-19 and its toll on both the health and economic wellbeing of people in the region.

They felt disconnected from what was unfolding beyond the walls of their comfortable home. The conclusion they both came to was that they really wanted to do something to help.

“I think we were both sitting home in the comfort of our environment, staying warm – having plenty of food, not worrying about where our next paycheck was coming and we thought, what can we do to help people who aren’t as lucky as us,” Bob Elfant told the Local last week.

Bob is the founder and broker of record for Elfant Wissahickon Realtors. He’s lived in the community for decades and both he and Nancy said they wanted to do something to support people in Northwest Philadelphia So the pair got in touch with Dwight Lewis, chief of staff for State Sen. Art Haywood and, together, to collect money and transfer the donations to $100 gift cards to distribute to people who needed them.

The first appeal was a personal email that went out to about 110 friends and family members. Today, two weeks later, the Elfants have raised $46,000.

“It was like we opened the floodgates,” Bob said. “A lot of people out there that we knew had an interest in doing something and weren’t quite sure what to do, and I think the idea of actually putting gift cards in the hands of people that could use them struck a chord. It felt this was a concrete way to really help somebody that really needed some help.”

Nancy said the people she communicated with were grateful for the opportunity.

“With virtually every check that we get or Venmo payment we get, people thank us for just giving them an opportunity or giving them an avenue to do something,” she said. “People really appreciate being able to give and some are even apologetic that they can’t do more.”

Nancy said that she and Bob have a long history with Face to Face, the outreach center in Germantown, and the food charity Philabundance, but that they were looking for something more direct.

“We were hoping to get help to somebody immediately,” Nancy said, and noted that they recently gave 25 cards to Face to Face director Mary Kay Meeks-Hank. “What we heard from Mary Kay is there are people who might need cash for other things, not just food and this could be used for whatever they needed.”

The main method the Elfants used to distribute the gift cards, however, was through local school Chromebook pickups. The Elfants had been involved in fundraising projects at both Lingelbach Elementary and Kelly Elementary, both in Germantown. Through contacts at both schools and with help from Sen. Haywood’s office, more than 300 cards were distributed to families when they picked up school-issued Chromebook laptops to continue schooling at home.

The Elfants credited the staff at the Mt. Airy branch of Univest Bank, which processed every gift card request. Each gift card is a $100 Visa gift card that can be used to buy anything.

“The whole crew there has just been awesome,” Bob said.

The Elfants also credited the efforts of parent and friends’ organizations at both elementary schools for helping the identify the families that need the aid the most.

Inspired by the success, both Bob and Nancy said they are hoping to continue the program by asking people to contact them via email for directions on how to donate to the cause. Nancy can be reached at nancy.elfant@gmail.com and Bob at bob@elfantre.com. With continued assistance from Face to Face and Sen. Haywood’s office, the Elfants say they will continue to put gift cards into the hands of people who need it, thanks to the incredibly generous donations of other people in the community.

Bob said it speaks incredibly well of people in the community and of people more broadly.

“There’s a silver lining in this terrible virus — that despite all the animosity in the political world, I think there’s a ton of people out there that are doing wonderful things and coming together to help one another,” Bob said. “We’re going to be judged for many, many years to come on how behave at a time like this, and I think the fact that people have risen to this occasion on this particular effort and in so many other ways, I think really speaks well for humankind.”

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