Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to newstips@seattletimes.com with the subject “Stepping Up.”

Aubrey MacKenzie’s first thought when he knew he would be getting a $1,200 stimulus check was how was he going to spend it.

“But a better question is: What is the best way to spend this $1,200?” said MacKenzie, who graduated last year from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington, of the money the federal government is sending to Americans to help with financial issues caused by shutting down the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. “I looked around — and I’m a Capitol Hill resident — and I had seen some of my favorite businesses having to shutter their doors. And I knew that they, and their employees, were hurting. And I knew if I put this money toward small businesses, that would be the best way to spend it.”

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That thought was the seed for the Pledge 1200 campaign MacKenzie has helped start, with the hope that others around the country who aren’t in need will also pledge to spend some or all of their $1,200 checks at small businesses.

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MacKenzie enlisted the help of two other recent Foster School graduates, Mason Delahooke and Dominik Gorecki, along with Jarred Mac, who went to high school with MacKenzie at Central Kitsap in Silverdale before going to Washington State.

By March 24, the Pledge 1200 website was ready, and it went online when President Donald Trump signed the $2.2 trillion stimulus package that included $1,200 stimulus checks to many individuals. The campaign itself does not collect money, but people can sign the pledge declaring they will use their checks to support small businesses.

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The campaign has steadily picked up steam, and, as of Tuesday morning, more than $621,000 had been pledged from 34 states, with most of it coming from Washington.

“I had seen a lot of support for small businesses — whether it was a local pizza chain or the local boutique — but I hadn’t seen a unified message,” MacKenzie said. “So I knew the support was there and I wanted to give it that unifying message.”

Pledges made on the website are on the honor system, and those who pledge are encouraged to share how they’re supporting small business by using the social-media hashtag #Pledge1200. The site also highlights specific businesses and tells their stories.

Some of the Pledge 1200 website’s ideas for supporting small businesses include ordering takeout, buying gift cards, tipping generously and supporting Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s Keep Workers Safe and Healthy Fund.

MacKenzie didn’t have to do a lot of selling to get Mac involved in the campaign. Mac, who works in public finance for the Spokane County Treasurer’s office, has been working hard to deliver the campaign’s message to small businesses and individuals on the east side of the state. Michael Baumgartner, Spokane County treasurer, has publicly endorsed Pledge 1200.

“I’ve really tried to put my foot forward for some of the Spokane-area businesses as well as reaching out to the downtown Spokane partnership,” Mac said. “It’s two-pronged. We want to highlight some small businesses … and at the same time we want to be reaching stimulus recipients to spend money at small and local businesses.”

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What began as a weekend project for a group of men with full-time jobs has become a lot more than that.

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“This is a campaign and we want to get this message out to as many people as possible,” MacKenzie said. “So far, the support has been tremendous.”

MacKenzie, an analyst at Columbia Pacific Advisors, credits his three pals for “probably putting in more time in it now than I do, and they’ve really helped take it on.”

“Those guys said, ‘Here is an idea and I would like to get involved,’ ” MacKenzie said. “I’m really fortunate to have smart people who said, ‘I want to help out in a leading role.'”

MacKenzie said he doesn’t have a number goal when it comes to the amount of pledged money.

“This week, 70 million people will be getting those checks and if we get 70 million people thinking about it, then we’ve succeeded,” he said.

Mac is dreaming big.

“I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility to get a couple million people to pledge as long as we can get some traction,” he said. “Seventy million people are going to be receiving these checks on (April 15) alone, so if we can just harness a small fraction of that, that’s hundreds of millions of dollars pledged with the 1,200 multiplier. So that would just be huge. It all starts with getting our name out there and getting people to talk about it.”

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