The phenomenon, we all know it: when things get tough, your neighbors bring you a casserole. Whether it’s a hospital stay, a funeral or a natural disaster, whenever you’re in pain, your community comes together, with lasagna and flowers in hand.
Sarah-Allen Preston knows this all too well. In 2017, she and her family were living in a rental after their home in Kansas City flooded. Her newborn son, nicknamed Boss, had a heart defect and needed surgery. “It was a very confusing and traumatic post-natal experience,” she explains.
Meanwhile, her friends and family began dropping off gifts at local stores. toys for her two oldest sons, hospital clothes she could wear. Preston was blown away by all the love and support.
“It wasn’t the things that meant so much to me,” she says, “but it was the thoughtfulness of the gifts that meant, like, I have people here for me. Take care of people. And that really gave me a lot of strength.
Then in 2019, she and her husband separated. Preston was once again inundated with gifts and support from her community. She started thinking about how she could reciprocate.
“I was like, ‘Okay, there has to be an easy way for me to send my gratitude out into the world and show people how much this means to me,'” she says.
She wanted an easy and convenient way to send people thoughtful gifts during her limited time as a single, busy mom, but couldn’t find what she was looking for. So she decided to develop a new gift app, called afloat.
The service is now available in Kansas City and Dallas.
“Personally, I’m obsessed with Dallas,” says Preston, who attended SMU and started his first company, Preston Paper, here in naughties. The afloat mobile app connects users with local businesses and brands for easy giveaway. Think homeware, apparel, kids, and lifestyle brands like Support HerStory, Sur La Vague, Miracle Milkookies, Madre, and more.
Affiliates curate a list of giveaway items that users can browse on the app, with new products on sale every week. Once you’ve found something you love, all you have to do is click “Give This Gift” and fill in your recipient’s name and address, and a note from yourself, your payment information and whether you want same day or next day delivery. . (Afloat is partnered with ride-sharing company Alto for fast deliveries.)
“My favorite comment we got was, ‘I just sent a gift and in less than a minute it’s dangerous,'” Preston jokes.
Keeping the brands on the local app was paramount, she says. It was easier for fast shipping – “delivery is in our DNA now” – and the whole Preston manta is about connection and communities supporting each other.
This celebration is at the heart of the app and its name. Preston’s friend invented it in 2019 after a walk. They had pondered Preston’s desire to create a “festive support space”. The next day, the friend offered himself afloat.
“I really felt like I was struck by lightning,” Preston says. “Afloat in itself is just a joyful and uplifting word. Whether it’s a gift for a happy occasion or those uncomfortable times, you – sympathy when thinking of a breakup, a child undergoing a heart surgery – there are so many things this applies to.
As the app grows, Preston hopes to offer more pop-ups and partnerships with local bloggers and influencers (for Valentine’s Day, Food Life Love blogger Rachel Hutchinson curated a special gift guide). User features will grow, she teases, and she continues to develop the technical side, but for now Preston is content to grow her community and stay afloat.
Catherine Wendlandt is an associate online editor for Magazine D‘s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…