Funding the Effects of the Pandemic to Grow Business 

by Mike Hunter

Business is the lifeblood of any economy. Small businesses are said to be the fuel that any strong economy runs on. That thinking has, until earlier this year, been what we have proven — making Greater Phoenix one of the top places to be in business.

We are fortunate to have some of the stories of those who have received funding to get them through the toughest of times in recent months. The companies below represent many sectors that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. We asked them to share details about what they used the funding for, how it impacted them and what they plan for the future.

A Better Way 

Lois Williams, Chief Executive Officer

Sector: Nonprofit

A Better Way has been in existence for more than 16 years and has housed, provided sober living programs and job referrals to thousands of Arizona residents. We get hundreds of referrals monthly from detox centers and outpatient mental health facilities all over the Valley. A closing of this facility would cause an enormous impact on the low-income housing population in the state of Arizona.

Our mission is to help the homeless and those individuals who have been maladjusted to life due to drug and alcohol abuse as well as being homeless. We provide shelter, substance abuse classes and life skills clothing along with help obtaining resources for jobs and schooling. Our largest service of contributions was volunteering service to the sporting and entertainment venues. This ended at the beginning of March 2020. We were simultaneously interrupted without notice with the coronavirus pandemic. Our world as we knew it changed. 

We provided service to several venues servicing different stadiums, both of which are now no more. It brought us a monthly revenue of approximately $18,000. This provided housing, utilities, food, clothing and other essentials to the more than 30 men we were helping at the time, along with help with meetings, training and other recovery needs. 

We provide intake for all detox and behavioral health operations in Arizona, but were forced to limit the intake and faced the possibility of closing our doors. We applied to the Arizona Community Foundation for a grant that would allow us to keep our doors open and keep our men safe and off the streets and in hope of becoming productive citizens again. 

The $10,000 COVID-19 Grant we received helped immensely in keeping the indigent, homeless and disabled in a safe home, especially needed during the pandemic. The funding was used to ensure housing with rent, utilities, food and clothing. With most of the shelters being overwhelmed and full, my sober living program had to adjust for safety to the homeless. Stepping up to the unprecedented situation as best we could, we were forced to provide quarantine areas and masks and sanitizers as warranted. 

We are still in dire need of funding and still face the possibility of closing down. My services are highly requested, but I’m unable to meet the need because of funding, housing, and licensing and zoning issues. Licensing cost is tremendous with the state. As I write this in late August, I’m finding myself making a decision of releasing the men back into the streets or to other agencies that are equipped to take them in within the next 30 days.

Arizona Bleeding Disorders

Chastity Fermoile, Executive Director and Chief Development Officer

Sector: Nonprofit

Arizona Bleeding Disorders (formerly Arizona Hemophilia Association) serves people with inherited bleeding disorders in the state of Arizona. 

We had seven employees pre-COVID-19. Since its onset, we have had to reorganize due to a tremendous loss in funding — down to five employees, of which one was cut back to 20 hours a week. When the State was opening (prior to shutting down again), we did bring on another staff to help with the influx of services and member needs that required more attention of our other staff. 

Our organization services more than 550 families in Arizona, with 90 percent being women and children. Our community members suffer from a wide range of bleeding-related conditions that affect all ages. These families and individuals are considered immunocompromised due to their inherited disorders and the complications that can arise from them. Keeping this community healthy and reducing their exposure to COVID-19 is imperative, given the high risk the coronavirus poses to them. Consider an individual experiencing a high-risk internal bleed — who would likely end up in a hospital for several days to receive treatment, incurring thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in care-related bills and medication costs. For example, we have an 11-year-old who is on access and has an inhibitor, was hospitalized due to a bleed and within two weeks cost the state more than $1 million. This is what we want to prevent, and we have the staff and expertise to make sure that happens. 

As a nonprofit, we rely heavily on revenue from fundraising events. At the beginning of COVID-19, we had to cancel our largest fundraiser, the Salsa Challenge. This was just the beginning. Over the months that followed, we had to make difficult decisions to cancel programs, conferences and other events that lost us more than $700,000 in revenue. That was just through September. We are continuing to cancel and postpone programs and events as we are so unsure of what the future looks like in the State of Arizona. 

We received a $10,000 COVID-19 Grant from the Arizona Community Foundation. Once we received this funding, our first priority was continuing to provide the much-needed healthcare, emergency financial assistance, food, utilities assistance, etc. to our members. We were also able to implement virtual programming and resources. The grant provided us the opportunity to set up virtual outlets to reach our members and continue to offer education and resources about bleeding disorders and the critical care that they need. 

Prior to COVID-19, more than 55 percent of the bleeding disorder community was living below the poverty line, largely due to the astronomical costs incurred from medication and healthcare. Today, that number exceeds 70 percent. Cost of care can easily balloon to up to $45,000 a month per individual, without health insurance; even with health insurance, they face a co-pay of a minimum of $5000. Since March, the number of members with significant financial impact due to COVID-19 has been startling. This troubling scenario is becoming increasingly common because of the wide-reaching economic impact of the virus. This funding has helped us provide the much-needed services and resources our members were needing to get through this unprecedented time.

Regarding the future and our area’s economy, we are, frankly, scared and nervous of the unknown. As a nonprofit, we are having to get very creative in how we fundraise so that we can continue to provide to our community. Arizona has a large nonprofit sector, and every organization is searching for ways to provide for their community base. With the constant worry of businesses closing and people losing jobs and the fear of spreading the virus in a public event setting, we are worried that sponsorships, donors and fundraisers are going to fall to the wayside for not only us but the entire nonprofit sector. A falling economy can lead to a falling nonprofit sector. 

KAM Environmental, Inc.

Kathy McCloskey, President

Sector: Ecological Services

We are an environmental consulting firm servicing government entities, residential customers and private industry. We provide our services at the client site, and, after the stay-at-home order was implemented, we could no longer fulfill new work orders. Our two biggest clients are the City of Phoenix and a private engineering firm, both of whom shut down and were not issuing any new work requests. As I write this at the end of August, they are still not providing any new requests, and the monetary reserves the company had have all been depleted.

We received $7,500 from the Maricopa County Small Business Relief Grants. The grant came at a crucial time because our main piece of testing equipment needed to go in for its tri-annual maintenance — a financial burden the company could not afford. The instrument is a hand-held XRF analyzer, which tests for lead in paint. The source is radioactive and degrades over time; it has a life of about three years. My machine is at the three-year mark and a little beyond, so it can’t be used. When we send it in for service, it’s gone for two to three weeks. I want it ready to go when inspections start coming in again — I may lose out on work if I have to wait a few weeks to get it back.

I believe this type of funding has allowed very small businesses to remain open and keep employees on the payroll longer, which keeps money flowing in the local economy. If the numbers of new cases begins to decrease in the next few months, I believe that, with the assistance that’s been provided at both the Federal and local level, small businesses can stay open long enough to get back to normal cash flows — which means that we should recover fully. I think we can have a strong healthy economy in short order.

NakedQ BBQ

Oren Hartman, Pitmaster

Sector: Restaurant

As COVID hit the Valley, we — like most small businesses — saw our business drop instantly. We lost our in-person dining, catering and a number of events. Historically, that had been the lion’s share of our overall revenue. Our business quickly had to adapt to the new business climate.

We received $10,000 from the City of Phoenix Restaurant Resiliency Grants. The Resiliency Grant has allowed us to keep our team members (all six) working and helped us to minimize the losses associated with the virus. The funding was very impactful in allowing us to transform our BBQ into a business built off carryout and delivery. We were able to build another prep station, a staging area for our delivery orders, and stay staffed adequately. We are in the process of moving some equipment that will give us more room to accommodate our new needs. The City of Phoenix program has been instrumental in making that a reality. 

Looking to the future and our area’s economy, we expect it will take an extended time to fill our dining rooms again with in-person dining and to get back to our large-scale catering operations, but we are very optimistic that we can continue our current path and wait for things to get back to normal (or the new normal, whatever that looks like!). 

Scott’s Generations restaurant Delicatessen

Scott Snyder, Co-Owner

Sector: Restaurant

Prior to the COVID-19 breakout, I employed 14 full- and part-time employees; at the present time, I have a total of eight full- and part-time employees. I hope that sometime soon we will be able to get our entire staff to work. 

I received $10,000 from the City of Phoenix Restaurant Resiliency Grants. Clearly, the reason I needed to apply was the lack of business due to COVID-19 and the struggles of staying afloat during the pandemic. After receiving the funding, I was able to prepare my restaurant for dine-in with appropriate distancing, put into practice the necessary steps to maintain the COVID-19 guidelines and continue to serve my customers in a responsible way. 

I believe the funding has had a significant impact on our economy locally. I am trying to remain optimistic about the future of the local economy and hopeful that we can recover completely. With that said, as time goes by I believe we are all going to need more assistance from the government. After 32 years in business here in Phoenix, this obviously has been the most difficult time; hopefully, things will return to the levels we enjoyed prior to March of 2020. I am truly grateful for the support of the City of Phoenix and its residents!

Sperduti Communications

Kay Sperduti, President 

Sector: Marketing

Sperduti Communications is a sole proprietorship that has been in business since 2009. We work with medical practices (all specialties) and medical services (urgent cares, outpatient surgical centers, etc.) to increase visibility, grow patient volume, optimize patient retention and handle day-to-day communications. 

Approximately 75 percent of our work involves visiting medical practices Valley-wide. When the stay-at-home order was enacted, we had to immediately shut down that portion of our business. The four independent contractors who have made those visits for the past 12 years had to stop immediately. The communications portion of the business was also greatly reduced as practices were having to minimize services. This resulted in a dramatic reduction of work sent to other local vendors, including graphic designers and web developers. Existing operational funds kept us going through June, but at that point we were nearing a zero balance.

Since June, the business has slowly restarted. The late July funding — $10,000 from the Maricopa County Small Business Relief Grants — arrived just in time to pay for supplies, day-to-day operations and, most importantly, contractor and vendor payments. We were able to continue paying our contractors and vendors immediately for their work as we’ve done for the past 12 years.

Each of our four independent contractors has been with Sperduti Communications since 2009. They live locally and they count on this income. While we continue to regrow our business, the funding has helped ensure the continued survival of the business and contributed to their financial well-being.

When it comes to our area’s economic future, it’s clear that small business will need continued support as we navigate our new realities. None of us should be sitting around waiting for things to return to normal. Rather, we have to redefine the roles of our businesses. The corporate giants who have mastered their online presence are doing just fine. It’s time more attention is paid to small businesses as we work to re-establish ourselves in the months ahead..

Symmetry Health and Wellness

Sue Kostyk, Owner

Sector: Holistic Health

I had just started my business January 2019, with a platform on social media. Very little overhead was needed, and I kept this platform while I finished my Integrative Health Certification. Mid-2019 to year end, business picked up and I was able to add clients and move to a more clinical style of practice, which included adding functional lab testing to my offerings — which requires a larger overhead. 

 Once COVID-19 hit and the stay-at-home order was in place, many of my clients lost income and could not afford my services. I was on the verge of building a good clientele and wanted to upgrade my back office. My very old computer was on its last legs and I was in the market to upgrade to a system to fit my growing business.

I have just received $5,000 from the Phoenix IDA Small Business Relief Grants, which will allow me pay rent, purchase a new computer and equipment, as well as add functional lab tests to my back office. Prior to COVID-19, I had one employee and two contractors; currently, I am down to just myself. I am hopeful that I will be able to rehire my intake assistant at some point. It has also enabled me to lower my prices to those clients that have been impacted, but still want to focus on their health. 

This funding has allowed micro-businesses to get back on their feet. It doesn’t seem like a huge amount of money but, to a small business owner, it is exactly what I needed to sustain myself and not shut down completely.

I feel that our local economy is slowly but surely coming back. The grants that are being awarded will be so helpful to micro and small, family-owned businesses. It is sad and disheartening to see so many small businesses close their doors after decades of being in business. If we promote small business locally, our area’s economy will surely bounce back. 

Topete/Stonefield, Inc.

Liz Topete-Stonefield, President and CEO

Sector: Marketing

Topete/Stonefield, Inc., a minority- and woman-owned small business, is a multicultural and bilingual advertising, marketing and translations agency. The need to apply for a grant became obvious when 100 percent of my advertising clients stopped work altogether and I found out that one of our computers had been hacked via Zoom, which required a large, unforeseen expense at a time of uncertainty.

I am deeply thankful to the Arizona Community Foundation and the City of Phoenix. Their quick and thoughtful actions benefitted so many small businesses — like mine — as well as their employees and contractors and community at large. 

At our company, we used the $5,000 we received from the Phoenix IDA Small Business Relief Grants to replace one dead computer with three computers: one to replace the one the hacker killed, a second one for sensitive information without access to the Internet or to our computer system, and a third one — also not connected to our main computer system — to be used exclusively for Zoom and searching the Internet. We also reviewed our system, procedures and firewalls. 

The grant enabled us to cover 100 percent of a totally unexpected cost and to protect the business against any additional hacking. It also gave me peace of mind at a financially crucial time, as well as great joy knowing that ACF and the City had my back. 

The advertising industry is back in business and, thank God, my company is doing very well, working long hours, which is great news for a small business! We have kept our staffing at the same level as pre-COVID-19: two employees and 20-plus contractors.

We don’t expect to “go back to the way things were” any time soon. During the past 34 years, we have learned to adapt to changes. We have survived one recession, one great recession and now we are faring well with this crisis, thanks to the Arizona Community Foundation, the City of Phoenix, our team, our friends, our families, and most importantly God. ¡Muchas gracias! 

Read about the funding organizations in the grantor section of
Great Impact: Funding Businesses and Nonprofits to Sustain Our Economy.

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