Local governments and area residents have teamed up to offer a substantial helping hand for Buncombe County during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Kit Cramer, chair of the Buncombe County Service Foundation, the One Buncombe Fund has disbursed more than $1.3 million in individual grants and low-interest business loans to county residents since being established in late March.
During an Aug. 18 presentation to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, Cramer said 1,048 households had received over $453,000 in emergency assistance from the fund for necessities such as housing, utilities and transportation. Nearly $853,000 had been loaned to 92 area businesses to help them weather the coronavirus’s economic impacts, contributing to the retention of 674 jobs.
“We were meeting on a regular basis to talk about how we could react effectively to the massive number of workers who were laid off through no fault of their own and the number of small businesses who were facing immediate loss of income because of COVID-19,” Cramer recalled about early conversations with county staff and commissioners. “We were looking for something we could do to help meet that need immediately, and One Buncombe was that solution.”
Cramer also thanked community members for their generosity, noting that over $1 million of the fund had come from individual donations, corporate sponsorships and grants. The remainder came from government allocations: Buncombe County contributed $200,000, while the city of Asheville gave $100,000.
Awards from the fund were made with an eye toward racial equity, added Cramer. Black residents, who make up about 6.3% of the county population, received 12.5% of the individual assistance grants; minority-owned firms, which comprise roughly 10% of Buncombe businesses, got 29% of the loans.
The names of specific business loan recipients, however, were not made public. As previously reported by Xpress (see “On the money,” May 13), because the program is managed by the nonprofit Mountain BizWorks, the details of loan decisions and awards are not subject to government transparency rules.
One loan recipient did address the commission to express her gratitude for the funding. Pam Granger Gale, owner of Asheville-based art teaching business Majik Studios, said the stress she’d experienced as an entrepreneur during the early days of the pandemic was “nothing like I have felt — ever.”
“When I received the One Buncombe Fund loan, one major piece of the puzzle was filled, and my anxiety levels subsided,” Granger Gale continued. “I was able to breathe knowing that while I could not have in-person classes, I had the financial support I needed to pay rent, utilities and insurance on my studio space.”
Business owners will begin repaying their loans in the fall, Cramer said. That money will then be recirculated into the community according to its greatest needs, with potential uses including additional business loans and individual grants to help prevent evictions.
Although the One Buncombe Fund is no longer actively fundraising, Cramer noted, donations are still being accepted at OneBuncombe.org.