While financial help is on the way to businesses via the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, a number of local efforts seek to also make an impact.
Nonprofit funding assistance, financial donations to small businesses and even a coloring contest are ongoing projects by businesses aimed to ease the economic pain of COVID-19.
Amid stark economic realities – including a record 16.7 million filing jobless claims over the past three weeks – it’s hardly business as usual for many, including the Nixa Area Chamber of Commerce and its members.
President and CEO Chris Russell said the organization started a campaign dubbed Operation: Forward, a strategic plan to reach out and check in on all 492 of its members. “It’s a love campaign. We really take on that training, coaching and consulting mindset quite a bit in our chamber,” Russell said, noting it has compiled a COVID-19 relief plan on its website.
Videoconferencing sessions by chamber staff to discuss the coronavirus aid and Small Business Administration loans have been part of the campaign. However, Russell said discussions with members revealed some just aren’t ready to deal yet with how best to grow their business. He compared the process some businesses are going through as the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
“I tried to move everybody into acceptance way too fast, when they needed time to grieve a little bit and understand the process,” he said.
The chamber next plans to host virtual training classes for building an online presence and offer free consulting services via chamber member Dianne Davis Consulting LLC.
One Nixa chamber member, Luk Boutique, is raising money for local small businesses. The clothing retailer started printing Nixa Strong T-shirts last month with $10 of every $30 purchase going to a business of the buyer’s choice. According to its Facebook page, the shirts are on sale via its website through April. Shop owner Stephanie Kubla didn’t return messages seeking comment on the current amount raised.
A similar fundraising idea was hatched at clothing and home accessories retailer Five Pound Apparel, where a Support SGF T-shirt and sticker combination for $30 has been sold the past few weeks, said co-owner Brina Thomas. The store sold out of its first run of shirts.
With $15 of every shirt and sticker purchase donated to small businesses, the program sent over $4,000 to some 100 businesses, she said.
“We are hoping to run it again in a few weeks if everything goes smoothly but won’t be accepting more orders until then,” she said.
Another limited-edition clothing fundraiser, dubbed Local Strong, also wrapped earlier this month. Lifestyle apparel company Illumine Collect collaborated with Fried Design Co. and Springfield Craft Beer Collective, to create T-shirts, ladies tank tops, sweatshirts and stickers.
Jeremy Lux, Illumine Collect founder, said 40% of every purchase went to the Springfield Craft Beer Collective to disperse to employees of the nine active local craft breweries. The breweries currently are limited to pick-up orders or delivery, due to COVID-19 concerns.
Lux said sales generated $6,500, with roughly $2,600 going back to workers. The remainder covers clothing, printing, shipping and marketing costs, he said.
Illumine Collect previously partnered with multiple local nonprofits and businesses, such as Ozark Greenways and 37 North Expeditions LLC. However, the Local Strong project had the largest impact of any the company has tackled, he said.
“As of right now, this is only a one-time run for this design, but us and SCBC may decide different down the road,” Lux said. “I’d love to be able to help out again if I could.”
Officials at Great Southern Bancorp Inc. (Nasdaq: GSBC) are using their financial wherewithal to respond to the pandemic.
Spokeswoman Kelly Polonus said the bank is giving $300,000 to nonprofits across communities in its 11-state service area. Nearly $100,000 of that total is designated for Springfield-based agencies, Polonus said.
Recipients include Ozarks Food Harvest, at $25,000, United Way of the Ozarks, $15,000, and Care to Learn and the Discovery Center, $10,000 each. The bank also is donating $10,000 each to CoxHealth and Mercy Springfield Communities for their health care worker relief funds.
“We’re trying to hit as many organizations as we can,” she said. “We were just trying to act swiftly to get some money out there.”
Polonus said the funds are ultimately “a drop in the bucket” for the amount that some nonprofits likely need, as so many of their fundraising events have been canceled.
The impact of cancellations and postponements on the community calendar also has weighed on officials at the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, said spokeswoman Susan Wade. Many tourist attractions, including Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium, are closed temporarily amid stay-at-home orders.
To help promote local attractions, the CVB created a coloring page contest for all ages. Wade said the promotion via its website and social media is in its third week, with free passes to Fantastic Caverns, Dickerson Park Zoo and Wonders of Wildlife among the prizes issued.
“We want to give people something to do and be engaged in the community,” she said. “But we also want to let them know those attractions are out there and will be ready for them.”
As Nixa’s chamber leader, Russell said the help businesses receive now – be it locally or from the federal government – won’t solve their problems. But every little bit helps.
The chamber is maintaining its three-person staff, Russell said, while operating on its $350,000-$400,000 annual budget. But so much of the chamber’s revenue is predicated on events and sponsors, which are going to take a hit.
“It’s tough, so I feel their pain,” he said. “We’re working really hard behind the scenes to continue to be a resource and a value, because just like them, we need to keep the wheel moving.”
A former employee in the food service industry transitioned into a first-time business owner; grocery chain Aldi made its Branson debut; and Ozark-based nonprofit Garde’n Gate Provisions opened a thrift store and donation center.
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