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By Wilson, for Wilson: Donors sought for business pandemic grant program

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Unlike national programs, a new Wilson Commerce Foundation fund seeks to provide financial support for businesses without the strings or red tape.

“Some of the criticisms I’ve seen of other relief programs that have been made available is that the uses required for those funds are so restrictive that it renders them impractical, so many businesses are not able to seek relief,” said Wilson Chamber of Commerce President Ryan Simons. “This is a Wilson County program, so we have the luxury of knowing these people, shopping in their stores or using their services, so we want to support our neighbors with as much flexibility as possible.”

The chamber launched the commerce foundation as a nonprofit organization in October with hopes of supporting resiliency among businesses through sponsorships and professional development and establishing a fund to provide direct financial assistance to local businesses suffering in the wake of natural disasters.

“The idea to develop a fund to assist businesses through crises is not a new one, because that was part of the motivation behind starting the foundation to start with,” Simons said, noting pandemic assistance through the foundation has been discussed since executive orders started closing businesses. “As the economy started to reopen, Mayor Carlton Stevens reached out to me to implement this specific fund. As we’re starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel, we can work on soliciting donations and funnel those to targeted businesses.”

The My Brother’s Keeper Fund will be supported completely by donations, which will be accepted through June 1. During that time, the criteria for businesses — along with the forms owners will need to apply — will be finalized and posted on the chamber’s website at www.wilsonncchamber.com/.

Grants will not be awarded in the order applications are submitted between June 1-5, but instead, the foundation board will judge requests and funnel grants to those most in need.

The program is not limited to the chamber’s 480 members; all local small businesses are eligible. Simons said he believes businesses closed since mid-March, such as salons, nail salons and gyms, will be the main focus, but others might be eligible to apply.

“One of the things we want to make sure we do is keep the bureaucracy to a minimum. It is likely the direct grant support will not be a huge amount of money, so given that, I want to make sure we reduce the amount of red tape if possible,” Simons said. “It remains to be seen how much each individual grant award would be because it all depends on how much support we receive. Prospective applicants can be assured it won’t be a complicated, long application because we don’t want this to be a burden or something where the process is disproportionate to the potential reward.”

Stevens said he’s worked with the city council and county commissioners to solicit donations for the program, adding that funds will come from individuals or companies, not local governments.

“My desire is to see this receive enough funding to help as many small business owners and entrepreneurs as possible,” he said. “If the entire community can come together for one purpose — to help our small businesses — it will prove that together, Wilson can do anything.”

Donations can be made online through June 1 at tinyurl.com/yadqz6h6 or mailed to the Wilson Commerce Foundation at 200 Nash St. NE, Wilson NC 27893. Funds are slated to be awarded by June 15.

“If one business survives that might have otherwise closed their doors permanently, then I think this program will have been a success,” Simons said. “It remains to be seen how deep the economic consequences of this crisis will be locally, but we owe it to our community to provide any relief we can.”