When Catherine Campbell launched #AshevilleStrong on March 14, the owner of Bright Planning marketing agency felt she was answering a 911 call. The fledgling online directory of independent local businesses with links to purchase their gift cards was her immediate response to the crisis shutting down their operations. “The gift card directory will always be there,” she says.
But as the crisis wore on — and as she herself fell ill and spent nine weeks in quarantine — Campbell knew there was more to be done. So did others, including Stepfanie Romine, who proposed a digital cookbook of recipes from Asheville chefs to raise funds for the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association’s Restaurant Workers Relief Fund. Asheville At Home has so far grossed $16,000. “The first check we wrote to NCRLA in mid-June was for $12,500, which translates to 25 grants of $500 each to Buncombe County restaurant workers,” says Campbell.
While still recuperating, Campbell also heard from local event planner Shay Brown and Jeff Anderson of Urban Orchard Cider Co., and the three began a conversation about starting a nonprofit. They soon initiated efforts to register Asheville Strong as a 501(c)(3) organization, with Brown and Anderson as the first two founding board members, and created the Asheville Strong Fund, a microgrant crisis relief fund for small-business owners. “We are in aggressive fundraising mode right now to seed that fund,” Campbell explains. “Our initial goal is $150,000, and we are confident we will reach that.”
When they are closer to that goal, applications for the grants — which will range from $500 to $5,000 — will open, then be reviewed by the board of directors and appointed committee members with the goal of a four- to six-week turnaround. “We are especially looking to help fund microbusinesses with sole proprietors who have really fallen through gaps in other funding,” Campbell says. She notes that the Asheville Strong Fund will continue to serve as crisis relief beyond COVID-19.
Campbell says another program in the works, tentatively titled the Feed Our City Fund, is taking inspiration from José Andrés’ World Kitchen with the dual purpose of putting restaurants back to work and feeding people in need. “We know that food scarcity will continue for some time,” says Campbell. “Overall, with Asheville Strong, we are building for the long term.”
For more on the Asheville Strong Fund, visit ashevillestrong.com/fund.