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'This means a lot to us to survive': Hundreds of BIPOC-owned Portland businesses receive relief from federal grants

More than $11 million went to organizations hurting due to the pandemic that didn't receive enough federal help and adapted their business models to fit COVID times.

PORTLAND, Oregon — More than 900 small businesses in Portland are getting some relief. Prosper Portland awarded federal grants to mostly minority-owned businesses for things like rent, utilities and payroll.

Erwina Barney's passion to whip up Filipino dishes like pancit and lumpia supports her family.

“I am passionate to do the cooking. I think I was born with a fork and spoon, to cook for community and for our family,” Barney said. “This is our life for right now. Without this, how would I feed our family?”

"This means a lot to us to survive for our daily needs,” she added.

When the pandemic hit and restaurants shut down in-person dining and banned gatherings, Barney worried what the future would hold. Her restaurant, Fork and Spoon Food House, couldn't cater - which supports much of their business - and Barney had to lay off employees. It wasn't until last week she felt hopeful the Filipino restaurant would stay afloat through winter, their slow season.

"If I do not have that money in wintertime, I would not survive. We might as well leave the place,” Barney said.

They're one of 924 small businesses receiving a grant from Prosper Portland's second round of Small Business Relief Fund, made up of federal CARES Act money.

RELATED: Watch: Oregon mayors, community leaders outline economic relief efforts

"We hope this provides relief and also hope it sheds light on the fact that people need to be purchasing from small local businesses right now more than ever,” Prosper Portland Entrepreneurship and Community Economic Development Manager Shea Flaherty Betin said. 

More than $11 million went to organizations hurting due to the pandemic that didn't receive enough federal money and adapted their business models to fit COVID times.

"A lot of federal support went to larger businesses, so the focus was to hit smaller businesses, the fabric of our community,” Flaherty Betin said.

With help from community organizations and a diverse selection committee, grants prioritized equity. The vast majority went to businesses owned by people of color, immigrants, and/or women. Businesses that received grants range from restaurants to child care to nonprofits.

"The real impetus behind this is if we look at local and national trends the BIPOC community, BIPOC business owners, are some of the last to get access to capital, the last to get information. A digital divide impacts our city tremendously right now,” Flaherty Betin said.

However, almost 5,000 small businesses applied for this round of grants, meaning thousands didn't get the relief they desperately need.

"My heart breaks because there are so many people who aren’t getting funds,” Flaherty Betin said. “We wish we could help all… there's just not enough funds to help everybody.”

Barney didn't get a grant the first time she applied earlier this year and wants to encourage those who didn't receive it this round to keep their heads up.

“I am so sad for them,” Barney said. “But if you look down and you are just hopeless and you will not do anything and that's not good. It’s not going to help you to get up and stand up and do something.”


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