Richmond Times-Dispatch | Pete and Burson Snyder column: Virginia comes together
Two weeks ago, we — along with some of our friends from Virginia’s business and philanthropic community — announced an effort to help small businesses in the commonwealth struggling with the unprecedented challenges presented by the spread of a global pandemic.
All around us, we saw Virginians being laid off and businesses barely hanging on. As entrepreneurs who know firsthand how hard it can be to meet payroll even in the best of times, we wanted to do something to be of assistance. So we created the VA 30 Day Fund.
Using only private capital, our goal was to provide immediate financial assistance to small businesses to enable them to keep employees onboard, pay the rent and provide much-needed health care as they wait for the cavalry to arrive in the form of more substantial federal funding. While we hoped this effort would be well-received and keep a few small businesses running, we truly had no idea the magnitude of what would follow.
The day we announced our effort, two things simultaneously occurred. Applications for funding flooded in. We received more than 100 in less than 12 hours of operations. At the same time, so did contributions. It was a perfect mix of business owners who needed this assistance being met by donors with the means to help provide it and wanting to lend a hand. In short, it was Virginians coming together in the toughest of times to share the burden.
The VA 30 Day Fund has received more than 1,300 applications for funding. And our initial seed pledge of $100,000 to launch the fund has grown to more than $400,000 in contributions. We’re thrilled to report those donations are keeping Virginians employed and the lights on at small businesses all across the commonwealth.
To date, we have funded more than 80 Virginia small businesses. We hope and expect that number to grow to several hundred — and many, many more jobs saved — by the time our work is complete.
One of our first loans went to the owners of The Prescription Shoppe, which — the inclusion of that extra “e” should have tipped you off — is located in Williamsburg. A mom-and-pop pharmacy owned by Henry and Jade Ranger, this business is serving at least four customers who are battling COVID-19. Those customers are fighting to beat this deadly virus while the owners are struggling to keep their staff on the job, in order to continue providing care.
Another loan went to Whitlow’s on Wilson, a well-known restaurant in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington. Countless Virginians have raised a glass and grabbed a burger at Whitlow’s over the decades, but now the restaurant sits closed. Despite having to cease operations, owner Jon Williams is buying groceries every week for his employees, making sure they have what they need to get through this tough time. Whitlow’s is more than a business; it is a family.
Far removed from the traffic of Arlington, the owners of another Virginia institution, Edwards Virginia Smokehouse in Surry County, watched a fire destroy their warehouses and product in 2016. Now, these makers of one of our state’s most iconic delicacies, Virginia country hams, are facing a new catastrophe in the form of a virus from halfway around the world. Our funding is helping Sam Edwards III keep his family business, started by his grandfather in 1926, open through yet another challenge.
The VA 30 Day Fund is not a silver bullet. Our funding is not going to save any businesses on their own, but it will help them keep going. And just like this virus doesn’t care about political parties or geographic boundaries, neither does our effort.
Office holders from state Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, to Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, have pitched in. Business leaders of every political persuasion have offered their help. We have both been around our fair share of political campaigns and a lot of collective efforts, but we have never witnessed anything like this concurrent meeting of need and assistance.
When we launched this fund, we thought we had a pretty good understanding of how tough times were for small business owners and their employees. We didn’t know the half of it. Watching the videos sent in by applicants and speaking with them by phone, we have repeatedly been moved to tears.
And when we call folks to tell them that they are being funded, nearly half cry with us on the phone, but this time with tears of joy. These are great people, fulfilling their dreams, employing their neighbors and friends. Now, through no fault of their own, all of that hard work is at risk.
In a moment like this, there is no choice but for each of us to try to do our part to help these small businesses withstand this crisis. If you need help from the VA 30 Day Fund, let us know. If you can help the VA 30 Day Fund, let us know that, too. Together we will get through this. And make no mistake: Together is the only way we will get through this.
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