MERIDIAN STAR | Guest View: Mississippians helping their neighbors

Three weeks ago, we — along with some of Mississippi’s top philanthropic, business, and community leaders from across the state and four of our former governors— announced a nonprofit effort to help small businesses struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today we are husband and wife, but we first met 15 years ago during recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Together, we witnessed how instrumental small businesses are to the economy and character of Mississippi. The response and leadership of the private sector was important then, and is critical now. We knew we had to do something to help. We watched founders, Virginian Pete Snyder and his wife, Burson, who has Mississippi roots, launch the Virginia 30 Day Fund to help small businesses. We then saw funds launch in Arkansas, Georgia and Pennsylvania and thought, why not Mississippi?

We seeded the Mississippi 30 Day Fund with initial resources, and then quickly individual, corporate and foundation supporters stepped up to help our great state. Our goal was to provide immediate financial assistance to small businesses to enable them to keep employees onboard, pay the rent and pay for much needed PPE supplies or changes to their business in this new COVID-19 reality. We knew our Mississippi small businesses were in need, but we have been overwhelmed by applications. Our job creators are just trying to do the right thing for their employees, their customers and their communities.

The week we launched the Mississippi 30 Day Fund, applications flooded in. We received 500 applications in the first 48 hours and volunteers from across the state who were willing to share the program with their neighbors. As we write this column, we are in active discussions with foundations and some Mississippians who are fortunate and want to know how they can lend a hand and pay it forward.

To date, we have funded more than 30 Mississippi small businesses in all corners of the state, from Horn Lake to Vicksburg to the Kiln. But it is clear every day, more help is needed; our work is far from complete.

One of our first loans went to a wedding planning business, Embellished Events in Water Valley. Embellished Events owner Dianne said that, “you have literally saved my businesses with that one phone call”. Another award went to Endville Bakery in Tupelo. This family owned bakery can now keep their staff on payroll and buy new PPE supplies. And in true southern fashion, they sent the Mississippi 30 Day Fund a “thank you box” box of cookies and zucchini bread which were divine!

We funded Fill My Cup Coffee Shop in Baldwyn. Fill My Cup is a Christian-oriented small business whose mission is to help women work through their recoveries. Says Jessamie, an employee, “When I walked in one and a half years ago, I was automatically welcomed regardless of my past of drug addiction. That is why we have to keep these doors open”.

Another grant went to Smart Therapy in Canton. This pediatric rehabilitation center provides Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and speech therapy services to children in the region. Melissa Williams, a working mom, has worked tirelessly to keep her team in place during these uncertain times.

Further south, we funded a community staple, the Dinner Bell in McComb, which hosts its guests around a large table with a lazy susan that seats 18 people! To quote the owner, Roland Davis, “People get to know each other at our restaurant, and they find they have more in common than they have different….this grant money will go a long way in keeping our doors open and this family tradition alive for a little while yet to come”.

This funding is not going to save every business all on its own, but it will help them keep going to fight another day. The Mississippi 30 Day Fund is a complement to the very worthy state and federal programs created to help Mississippians. Former Democratic governors Ray Mabus and Ronnie Musgrove as well as Republican governors Haley Barbour and Phil Bryant have lent their support to the effort. Former Congressmen Ronnie Shows (D) and Chip Pickering (R) along with former Miss Mississippi Mary Donnelly Haskell have also joined our cause. Business leaders of every political persuasion across the state have offered their help including regional board members such as Amy Tate and Dr. Cathy Grace of Tupelo, Merle Flowers of Olive Branch, and Amanda Tollison, Cal Mayo, Elizabeth Heiskell, John Currence, William Alias, III, and Josh Davis all of Oxford. In addition, Mississippi State University’s College of Business and Ole Miss’ School of Law have partnered and offered 30 volunteers to assist in loan application review. Not only do we have bipartisan cooperation, but also a little in state rivalry partnership as well!

Our application is different than a bank or government loan. Sure, we want to know our applicant is truly a Mississippi-based business for at least a year and owned by a Mississippi resident. Our short application focuses on the personal videos from the small business about how they have been impacted and how our up to $3,000 forgivable loan can make a different for their business. Watching the videos sent in by applicants and speaking with them by phone, allows us to learn about the business and in some cases, feel as if we are visiting in person. When we launched this fund, we knew times were tough, but after hearing some of these needs and visiting by phone with many of our applicants and awardees, we have learned we did not know the half of it. We learned during Hurricane Katrina that Mississippians want to work and have the grit and determination to figure it out. We are just here to give them a hand. Now, here we are again, and through no fault of their own some small businesses need help.

If you need help from the Mississippi 30 Day Fund, you may contact us at MS30DayFund.com. If you want to join our cause, we welcome that partnership as well! After all, Mississippians are at our best when we take care of one another.

Marie and Brian Sanderson are the founders of the Mississippi 30 Day Fun and residents of Ocean Springs.

Read the full story HERE.