As a regular walker, Melissa Goss-Halbert sees things the average driver may often miss.
The Montana native moved to Redmond about two and a half years ago and as she has walked her way around town, she has seen firsthand how local businesses have been affected by the economic recession.
“I’ve heard so many stories about the hardships,” Goss-Halbert said.
After seeing business after business close, reduce their hours or open on an appointment-only basis, she decided to do something about it with “The Walking Mom Project.”
This endeavor is Goss-Halbert’s way of doing her part to help the local economy. For the last few weeks, she and her two-year-old daughter have been visiting businesses within a five-mile radius of the Bella Bottega area — where they live — to create goody bags filled with coupons, deals and flyers for customers. For businesses who couldn’t afford to print flyers, Goss-Halbert has offered to cover the cost herself.
“I want to do right by the people around me and in the community,” she said.
As of Monday, 15 businesses are participating in the project: Great Play, A Custom Stitch, Trade Chic, The Closet, SoulFood Books, Hancock’s Bakery, Madison’s on 83rd, Pacific Music, Ben Franklin Crafts and Frames, Wildflour Gluten-Free Bakery, By the Way Coffee, Tree Top Toys, Vitamin Life, Ashleigh’s Attic and McDonald’s Book Exchange.
Goss-Halbert will also include her own flyer encouraging people to fill the plastic shopping bags, which are provided by QFC at 8867 161st Ave. N.E. in Bella Bottega, with food items to donate to the Hopelink food bank at 16225 N.E. 87th St. in Redmond. Food can also be dropped off at QFC.
Goss-Halbert plans to distribute between 250 and 500 bags beginning Friday at the Arts in the Park event at Redmond City Hall at 15670 NE 85th St. at 7 p.m. After that, she will distribute the bags to people she bumps into while she walks around town. Her goal is to distribute about 50 bags per day.
“I’m just going to talk to as many people as I can,” she said.
Goss-Halbert said by walking everywhere, she sees all sorts of businesses that people driving by may not notice. She can also take the time to really talk to and learn about shopkeepers and people she passes by on the street. The 35-year-old has lived in various areas around the country, but said it wasn’t until she moved to Redmond that she began building these relationships.
“I’ve never really known my neighbors till I got to Redmond,” she said.
And while she has enjoyed getting to know her neighbors, it’s not always under the best circumstances as she has met people who have been on the verge of closing up shop for good. Goss-Halbert has also heard stories about business owners whose families have lost everything during the recession.
“How sad is that?” she asked. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Goss-Halbert and her family have faced hard times as well. About a year ago, her husband lost his job working at a tech company in Bellevue. To help them through this time, they went to Hopelink in Redmond, which offers various human services for those in need.
Goss-Halbert said through Hopelink, she has met people from all walks of life, including some one would never expect to utilize the nonprofit.
It was during this time when her family had to watch their budget that Goss-Halbert got the idea for “The Walking Mom Project.”
She was visiting Great Play, a gym for children, to tell them she had to cancel her daughter’s membership, when the owner told Goss-Halbert that if she helped them distribute flyers for advertising, the membership would be covered. She said this simple act of kindness had a tremendous effect on her.
“It made a world of difference,” Goss-Halbert said. “It gave me the idea of, ‘Why can’t I give back to her and give back to the community by doing the same thing?'”
This time around, Goss-Halbert is distributing the flyers and coupons just to help out and although she said many businesses were enthusiastic about her project, she was faced with skepticism. She said a number of people asked what she thought she could do since she is just one individual.
But this has not deterred Goss-Halbert. She said she understands she can’t stop every business from closing, but she can do her part in helping.
Goss-Halbert said even if people aren’t able to make any purchases, she encourages them to get out and meet their neighbors and the local business owners.
“It’s all about going out there,” she said. “This place is amazing. It really makes you appreciate the community you have.”