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Exelon : Hope and helplessness as agencies try to speed aid to city neighborhoods

05/23/2015 | 05:36am US/Eastern

May 23--Local agencies and foundations are reviewing an outpouring of demand from Baltimore businesses and neighborhoods for support after last month's unrest with a combination of hope and helplessness.

The United Way, the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Baltimore Development Corp. are among the organizations that have created special funds -- and expedited timetables -- to help the city deal with the aftermath of rioting late last month following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old who died of a spinal cord injury sustained while in police custody.

The helplessness stems from the sheer volume of requests, officials said. Despite an infusion of five-figure donations from such corporate fixtures as Exelon, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, there is considerably more need than cash to pay for it.

An emergency United Way fund raised more than $500,000 in three weeks, but it has received grant requests totaling about $2.2 million.

The needs run the gamut, from businesses seeking help in repairing smashed storefronts to neighborhoods hoping to fund summer youth programs or community fairs.

Federal and state agencies are involved, too, offering zero-interest and low-interest loans for businesses damaged or disrupted by the riots.

At least one severely damaged and looted business is taking a less conventional route.

Friends of the owners of J-Mart Wigs, a family-run business on West Pratt Street, recently created an online site to generate support. The gofundme.com page recounts how owners Jung C. Chung and Sung S. Chung came to the United States from South Korea "with little money but worked hard to create a decent life for their two boys."

A widely circulated photo shows display cases overturned and the floor littered with merchandise.

Rebecca Sayres, 34, of Arlington, Va., who helped start the online page, said she was concerned that more traditional relief routes would take too long.

By Friday afternoon, the site was nearing its goal of raising $25,000.

"I was even hesitant to do it on their behalf because I was worried they might reject it" because of pride, said Steve Kim, 36, of Alexandria, Va. "But they were very happy."

Kim and Sayres are friends with Matthew Chung, the store owners' son. The Chungs could not be reached for comment.

There are no complete estimates yet on the extent of citywide damage. City and state officials say they are continuing to develop a final tally.

The Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, released a tally Friday of 382 damaged businesses. And that count may not be complete.

The BDC eventually hopes to raise $15 million for its Baltimore Business Recovery Fund, which will supply loans and grants. For now, the BDC, which says it is not yet close to the target, is offering grants of up to $5,000 for storefront repairs.

The Small Business Administration, which issued a disaster declaration for the city, is offering businesses low-interest loans of up to $2 million for physical damages or economic hardship. The state Department of Housing and Community Development is providing zero-interest loans up to $35,000 -- as well as larger low-interest loans -- for new demolition, construction or other recovery projects.

SBA spokesman Michael Peacock said the agency has received few applications so far and is hoping for more. SBA representatives have opened two disaster loan outreach centers in the city, one at the Pennsylvania Avenue branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library on North Avenue and the other at Southeast Anchor Library on Eastern Avenue to help businesses apply for loans.

But even on an expedited basis, such loans can take time to be approved and disbursed to needy businesses.

"Oh my heavens," said Susan Gauvey of the demand for grants from Maryland Unites, an emergency fund established by the United Way of Central Maryland.

Gauvey, a retired federal magistrate judge, is co-chair of a steering committee that will parcel out more than $500,000 in grants to nonprofits and religious groups in the coming weeks.

On a recent weekend, she read 92 grant proposals -- about as many as the United Way normally receives for Baltimore in a year.

"The ideas are wonderful -- there is so much hope in it," Gauvey said. "There are just so many people out there that have their finger on the pulse. A lot of it was youth-related and job-related. We're talking about things like expanding summer programs for children, community centers, trauma relief. Also civic engagement and community healing."

But the applications seek about four times more than what is available.

"We're still collecting money," said Mark Furst, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Maryland. "I'd say 80 percent [so far] is from the corporate foundation community and the other 20 percent is from individuals, many of whom gave $20, $30, $50."

BGE and Constellation Energy combined with corporate parent Exelon on a $100,000 grant. According to the United Way website, other top donors include CVS Health Foundation ($50,000), T. Rowe Price Foundation ($50,000), CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield ($50,000) and Comcast ($40,000).

The United Way plans to announce the initial grant recipients soon.

Like other organizations, the United Way is trying to accelerate the grant process without sacrificing diligence.

"Generally, grant-making here is done on a quarterly or annual basis," said Kevin Griffin Moreno, senior program officer at the Baltimore Community Foundation, which launched the Fund for Rebuilding Baltimore.

"We're going to be doing it on monthly basis until this fund is depleted, and currently we have a little more than $486,000 in donations that have come in."

The fund has distributed $30,000 so far, and the next round of grants is expected to be announced in the second week of June.

Among the initial grants were $5,000 to the Downtown Partnership to help businesses in the downtown corridor, and $5,000 to Total Health Care to assist West Baltimore residents in obtaining needed prescriptions and health services.

"Total Health Care immediately stepped up and extended its prescription medication coverage, as well as other health services coverage, even to people who weren't existing clients," Griffin Moreno said.

Most of the drugstores in riot-torn neighborhoods were looted, and while some soon reopened, others, including two burned-out CVS pharmacies, need to be rebuilt.

During the unrest, looters also smashed glass doors and merchandise cases at Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore and carried out armfuls of stolen goods.

State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh said she wants to make certain the businesses in the mall -- particularly the small kiosks that may not have been adequately covered by insurance -- understand there is relief available.

"I walked through Mondawmin the other day," said Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat. "They've done an excellent job of trying to get everybody back and up and running. It was nice and bright and cheerful in there, for the most part. But I did see some small kiosks that weren't open yet, and some of the jewelry stores aren't open yet."

Pugh said she was carrying cards with information on grants and loans but didn't see anybody at some kiosks to give those cards to.

"I do hope the money going into the United Way and the Baltimore Community Foundation will filter down to the community to those who have the greatest need," Pugh said.

jebarker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

___

(c)2015 The Baltimore Sun

Visit The Baltimore Sun at www.baltimoresun.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

© Tribune Content Agency, source Regional News

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