While stay-at-home orders were in place and the city of Chicago’s neighborhoods saw social upheaval following the death of George Floyd, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the launch of Together Now: Chicago’s Fund to Rebuild Our Neighborhoods.
In collaboration with The Chicago Community Trust and the city of Chicago, Together Now fund raised money from the region’s philanthropies, corporations and individuals to be disbursed to small businesses and not-for-profits that experienced damage as a result of social unrest or a loss of revenue due to COVID-19. In total, the fund provided more than $15 million in emergency relief to small business.
CCLF served as a capital partner in the program. “We are happy we can make a difference for the city’s small businesses,” said Susana Soriano, CCLF’s Senior Loan Program Officer II. Soriano stepped in and managed this important initiative at CCLF.
The Together Now fund provided operational cost support grants and physical infrastructure repair grants. Businesses that experienced at least a 25% revenue loss due to COVID-19 were eligible for an operational grant of up to $4,000 or an infrastructure grants of up to $10,000 to repair physical damage. “Strong consideration was made to account for the disproportionate impact felt on the South and West Sides of the city,” Soriano added. “In these predominately low- to moderate-income communities, Black and Latinx business owners are more frequently uninsured or underinsured and living in neighborhoods that have faced decades of disinvestment.”
The initial rounds of grants awarded helped more than 1,500 small businesses. For its role in the program and in tandem with other partners, CCLF received 1,235 applications with 411 approved, totaling almost $1.6 million in awards. Recipients were grateful for the chance to regroup following unforeseen hardships. Chicago Raw, for example, is a female-owned Vegan restaurant located in the city’s Near West Side neighborhood. The restaurant provides fully uncooked, 100% plant-based products to an under-served community in need and is owned by Polly Gaza, who runs the business with her daughter. Through the Together Now fund, Chicago Raw received a $4,000 grant.
“Her story had a dark side but she was overjoyed when she was awarded the grant,” Soriano explains. “She was screaming over the phone, ‘It’s real? It’s real?’ It’s definitely people and businesses like this that motivate me to work hard.”