By Jasen Lee, KSL and Deseret News -- As Salt Lake-area businesses struggle to survive during the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus, a local nonprofit organization is introducing a new way for patrons to lend their financial support.

Visit Salt Lake Tuesday announced the creation of the Gift Card Marketplace, an online outlet that sells electronic gift certificates to participating Salt Lake County businesses. The portal was developed as a way to generate much-needed revenue for small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, explained Visit Salt Lake communications director Shawn Stinson.

“We thought that kicking it off now and selling gift cards on behalf of Salt Lake restaurants or attractions might be a good way to help generate a little income for those businesses, and in this time, every little bit helps,” he said. “It’s a really simple electronic gift card and it seems like this is a good time with people purchasing gift cards for future use.”

He said the main focus of the site in the near term will be the marketplace, but its use could change in the future. The organization has long-term plans to broaden its capability when restrictions are lifted and socializing returns to pre-pandemic levels. For now, all revenue generated from the purchase of e-gift cards will go directly to participating small businesses.

“We really thought helping infuse some revenue into a few businesses — those that want to participate can do it,” Stinson said. More than 25 local businesses have expressed interest in joining the program, he said, with more anticipated.

In addition to the marketplace, Visit Salt Lake is also introducing a #SaltLakeStrongChallenge on its Facebook page that will include a “pay it forward” component that urges supporters to buy gift cards for friends, family or others in their lives.

Visit Salt Lake is awarding some followers who comment on its Facebook post $25 gift cards, with plans to continue doing so three more times in May. Winners will be encouraged to join the #SaltLakeStrongChallenge and purchase gift cards in increments of $10 or $25 for family or friends, Stinson said.

He said purchasing gift cards for teachers or community heroes like health care workers is a positive and effective way to help lift local businesses that make up the fabric of the greater Salt Lake community.

“Hopefully this kind of creates a momentum, a snowball effect that people want to do good things, and if you can afford it buy some gift cards and send them out to family or friends,” he said. “Heck, you can get them for the first responder in your life or whatever it may be.”