Oregon Credit Unions Come Through with Grants to Women- and Minority-Owned Businesses Impacted by COVID-19

10/13/2020

When the state of Oregon asked Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to distribute emergency grants to small businesses, the hope was that very small businesses would be served: those with fewer than 25 employees, sole proprietorships, rural, and minority-owned businesses.

Credit unions delivered.

Between July 3 and Sept. 28, the four participating credit unions — Consolidated Community, Point West, Trailhead, and Central Willamette, helped nearly 400 businesses to obtain $1.58 million in lifeline funding that they won’t have to pay back. The credit unions reported that 55% of the grants went to sole proprietorships, 35% to minority owned businesses, and 66% to women.

One of them is Jessica Siminski, who operates a Singletrack healthy snacks franchise in the Eugene area. Before COVID-19 happened, her line of nuts, fruits, and beef jerky was a big hit at the county fair, in assisted living centers, and office buildings. With access shut off, she wondered whether she’d have to sell her delivery van and close the business. And what would she do with the inventory she’d just reinvested in?

While she explored options to sell her products to still-open retail stores, she heard about the grant program, and very quickly, Central Willamette funded her with $2,500.

“This is going to keep me afloat for months,” Siminski said. “I am really thankful for all the help the credit union has given me.”

Another grant recipient, Ginger Johnson of Talent, Oregon, coaches business leaders to build stronger cultures by becoming world-class connectors. She had record months in January and February, delivering live trainings. When the pandemic made travel unsafe and pushed workplaces into remote environments, she was stuck — well at least for one night until she had an inspired thought.

“The world hasn’t stopped. It’s changed.”

Johnson retooled her business model so she could connect virtually with clients. But getting the word out? That was another hurdle, until she received a grant.

“That grant allowed me to take care of my web developer,” Johnson said. “And that’s my window to the world.”

There’s more to come.

The grant program was created earlier this summer by the Oregon Legislature in partnership with Governor Kate Brown. Initially grants ranging from $2,500 to $12,500 were offered.

Last week, the state announced the program is being extended until Nov. 15, with eligibility requirements expanded to allow for grants of up to $50,000. Businesses that received under $100,000 from other COVID-19 relief programs may apply. Businesses that already received a grant from the program may even be available for additional funding.

Point West and Central Willamette will continue to help eligible business owners. Nonparticipating credit unions  are encouraged to refer their members who own businesses. More information can be found online.

“Our goal is to push out as much money as possible,” said Stacie Wyss-Schoenborn, Central Willamette’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “We’ve been allotted $1.5 million and it would great to get all of those funds deployed to help Main Street businesses.”

A Giveback for Credit Unions from Ginger Johnson

Ginger Johnson, meanwhile, is so appreciative of credit unions’ community impact and support for small businesses, that she asked Anthem to share her three tips for feeling connected.

  1. More phone calls, less screen time. This is an opportunity to connect with a different sensory focus.
  2. Write and send cards and letters. People save them!
  3. Go deep with a handful of relationships that are meaningful. Loving them for everything they are is lifechanging.

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