Daily file photo by Catherine Buchaniec
When the coronavirus pandemic forced Evanston stores, restaurants and offices to temporarily close, Weinberg senior Femke Munting predicted that some of these small businesses would go under within weeks. But as the president of Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development (LEND), a student-run microfinance organization at Northwestern, Munting did not feel helpless. She mobilized LEND’s team and developed a plan to support the city’s local businesses.
“Situations like COVID really test organizations,” Munting said. “LEND wanted to show that we’re here for this community and want to help.”
LEND, founded in 2010, is a non-profit organization that gives loans and development services to small businesses in Evanston. It often works with women-owned and minority-owned businesses, as well as other enterprises near campus in areas like the Main-Dempster Mile and Howard Street.
In order to support Evanston businesses in need of financial aid during the pandemic, LEND created the COVID-19 Support Program. It provides zero-interest, zero-collateral loans of up to $5,000 dollars to businesses by application. The organization fundraised $60,000 for the program through donations and received another $100,000 through a program grant from the city of Evanston.
Businesses fill out a short form online to apply for a loan. In contrast to the complex form companies have to fill out in order to apply for loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration, Munting said LEND made the process simple. LEND’s loan application asks questions about a business’ purpose and finances. LEND team members then follow up with businesses that apply within one to three days, whereas the SBA can take months. LEND’s board of directors makes final decisions regarding which businesses receive loans.
The coronavirus relief loans LEND gives out are conditionally forgivable, meaning the terms of repayment depend upon each specific business’ circumstances, Munting said.
“We tell businesses that LEND loans are the last they should pay back,” she said. “We want them to focus on growing their business, and we only recollect if they’re successfully making money.”
Katherine Gotsick, executive director of the Main-Dempster Mile, said LEND’s impact during the pandemic goes beyond financial assistance. Businesses that receive loans have also received access to free development services through LEND, including QuickBooks training, website development, financial consulting and marketing.
Gotsick said a handful of businesses that are part of the Main-Dempster Mile received loans through LEND, including Evanston Grill, a restaurant for which LEND also helped create an online ordering platform. These extra services allow businesses to adapt to the demands of the pandemic, she said.
“During the pandemic, my job has involved marrying the right businesses to the right aid opportunity,” Gotsick said. “LEND has been incredibly handy to my district, and we’re all so thankful for it.”
La Cocinita, a Latin American street food restaurant in Downtown Evanston, also received a loan from LEND. Owner Rachel Angulo said LEND provided marketing support to La Cocinita, creating a video about the restaurant for their Instagram account.
Angulo said working with LEND has been an amazing experience overall. They helped her with many projects that she did not have time for, between running the restaurant and taking care of two young children.
“We’ve never worked with a PR company before, so it’s always been just me doing marketing,” Angulo said. “LEND provided the fresh eyes and expertise that we needed.”
To date, LEND has provided 31 Evanston businesses loans during the pandemic and is still distributing capital. Munting said LEND has processed over 100 applications so far this year, compared to five in 2019. The organization is distributing between $10,000 and $15,000 about every two weeks, according to Munting.
Working with small businesses throughout the pandemic has taught Munting how much they rely on their community to survive. She urges students and residents to shop and eat local to prevent the number of vacant storefronts from increasing in Evanston.
“If you can shift 15 percent of your monthly spending away from Amazon and towards small businesses, it helps so much,” Munting said. “If you’re able to mobilize your money in some way during the pandemic, that is a great way to do it.”
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