Vetress Boyce at her business, Boyce Enterprises. Credit: Pascal Sabino / Block Club Chicago

WEST SIDE — More than three dozen small businesses on the West Side won grants to help them bounce back from the pandemic.

The 39 grants came from West Side United, a collaborative of hospitals, community organizations and residents looking to improve health by addressing inequality in health care and the social conditions that lead to health disparities. The organization gave out $390,000 in total.

The grants are an expansion of the organization’s Small Business Accelerator program. In the first round of grants in 2019, West Side United invested in seven local businesses. With the support of JPMorgan Chase, Northern Trust and Allies for Community Business, the program was able to offer more grants this time to better respond to the challenges communities are facing due to the pandemic.

“West Side United and our partners are excited to fund businesses that are revitalizing corridors in Austin … and serving as a beacons of resilience and transformation across our other eight communities,” said Executive Director Ayesha Jaco.

Grants targeted Austin, North Lawndale, Little Village, East and West Garfield Park, West Town, Humboldt Park, the Lower West Side and Belmont Cragin.

About 160 businesses applied for the program, and each winner received $10,000. West Side United opted to offer a higher number of smaller grant amounts to support as many businesses as possible, organizers said.

Health disparities facing West Siders don’t just stem from clinical care: jobs, economic opportunity, education and the built environment are major predictors of individual health. West Side United’s programs tackle the social issues that lead to chronic health issues, said Mary Kate Daly, vice president at Lurie Children’s Hospital, a West Side United member hospital.

“Small businesses like these are the backbone of disinvested communities, and they have been crushed by COVID-19,” she said. “For West Side United hospitals, improving health is more than caring for patients when they show up at our doors. We need to engage in community-led initiatives to support COVID-19 recovery and economic development efforts to truly impact health.”

Hospitals in the West Side United collaborative are also integrating grant winners into their supply chain to bring local businesses more revenue.

Boyce Enterprises in North Lawndale used the funds to keep their shelves stocked, owner Vetress Boyce said. The company sells personal protective supplies and medical supplies to residents, and also supplies restaurants, hair salons and other local businesses.

“Small businesses in this area can sometimes struggle, and the pandemic brought about a different type of struggle,” Boyce said.

Small businesses like hers can have a catalytic impact on the neighborhood by boosting the local economy, attracting commerce and creating jobs, Boyce said. She is a lifelong Lawndale resident whose family has lived in the neighborhood since the 1940s, so she’s seen how disinvestment has led to blight, a lack of opportunity and an abundance of vacant lots.

Investments in local businesses can help revive North Lawndale’s economy and set the neighborhood on a pathway towards recovery, Boyce said.

“I chose to stay and continue to provide what I can provide to help the community build,” Boyce said. “We have to focus on getting these businesses up and running. It’s the economic engine for us.”

Map of grantees:

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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