The empty sidewalks of downtown Elon have been filling the mind of town of Elon Alderwoman Emily Sharpe. Since Elon University moved to virtual classes for the rest of the spring semester, and Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statewide stay-at-home order last month, local businesses have been hurting.

“I’m not a ‘wait around’ kind of person,” Sharpe said. “I wanted to get things going. The next couple of weeks are anticipated being the hardest here in our area.”

Sharpe created a GoFundMe page to raise money and feed healthcare workers, first responders and other essential employees. The money raised will be used to buy meals entirely from local businesses.

“If we lose these people, we don't just lose good food. That's not our only loss,” Sharpe said. “Our town is heavily funded by sales tax. So, when the students are not here, we're not bringing in the funds.”

It’s an initiative that didn’t go unnoticed by Oak House Owner Phil Smith.

“I'm buying milk locally, we're buying our coffee locally. We're buying our pastries locally,” Smith said, who is reporting bringing in about 20% of normal business. “So, that supports multiple levels and multiple tiers of local business.”

This time of year, according to Smith, is typically a time when Elon business owners can save for when Elon students leave for the summer. Without the revenue he usually counts on during the spring, Smith said it makes it harder to pay the bills.

“The problem is we know how to deal with it for a week or a long weekend, or even June and July,” Smith said. “But going from late February all the way through into August is going to be very, very difficult for folks.”

Difficult, but not impossible, according to Sharpe, with a little help from the people who should be walking those empty sidewalks.

“If 50% of all Elon residents, students included, were to give $10 each, that's $60,000,” Sharpe said. “We could do so much for these businesses.”