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Ninja Club offering fun way to support local business

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Sarnia Ninja:  A stealthy person who excels in supporting the local economy by making kind things happen

A small business owner is using some of her pandemic time to generate support for local entrepreneurs while spreading a little happiness.

Vanessa Lobodzinski launched the Sarnia Ninja Club website and Facebook page last week, hoping it catches on here as it has in other communities.

By joining the Sarnia Ninja Club online, participants register for a gift exchange that involves a basket or bag filled with cool gifts purchased from local retailers.

It’s about paying it forward, says Lobodzinski. Each participant receives a gift and anonymously delivers a gift to an address provided by the club website.

“It’s just a way to be kind and have some fun during these difficult times,” she said.

Lobodzinski, 47, noticed ninja gift giving in Calgary where wine ninjas leave gift baskets on the doorstep of friends. The goal is to leave the gift without being seen.

In Calgary, more than 10,000 wine ninjas participated this spring. Edmonton has had more than 47,000 wine ninja deliveries since May.

When the movement arrived in Ontario it was extended to children, with treats and toys left at the doorstep. Until now, gift ninjas have co-ordinated through Facebook groups, but Lobodzinski’s idea is to make it safer by using a more secure website. She teamed up with Ryan Giddings of hi5 Design in Sarnia to create what they believe is the first ninja website of its kind.

She’s also expanded it to four categories: kids, wine, foodie and craft beer.

“I came up with the foodie basket to help local restaurants that have been hit really hard. They might include gift certificates, sweet treats, candles, whatever you want.”

That broadens the number of local stores that can benefit from the sales, Lobodzinski said.

She owns a small culinary business called Call the Chef and says she understands the devastating impact the pandemic is having on businesses in every sector.

“It’s hard to redesign your entire platform (to adapt to pandemic conditions),” she said.  “People aren’t thriving but surviving. They need people to support them, to shop local.

“Every little bit helps.”

Sarnia gift ninjas register by donating a minimum of $5, which will be passed on to The Inn of the Good Shepherd, Noelle’s Gift and St. Joseph’s Hospice.

Lobodzinski hopes the idea will take off and there will be a hefty amount donated by the time the ninja campaign ends at the end of September.

Once registered, ninjas select the kind of gift basket they want and answer some questions so the anonymous gift shopper knows a little about their preferences.

They’ll then be provided an address and gift type to purchase for someone else, delivering ninja-style and maintaining physical distancing.  Lobodzinski recommends spending between $25 and $45 on each gift basket.

She’s consulted local police and spoken to a cyber security officer to ensure personal information will be safe.

“This is in the spirit of kindness and good intentions only,” she said. “There’s a lot of information on the site that spells out what is acceptable and I trust people will stick to that.”

Participants can take videos of their deliveries and post them on the website and Facebook page. Crazy costumes are encouraged.

To join, visit https://www.sarnianinjaclub.com/

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