The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique type of misery rarely experienced—a profound health, economic and social crisis all wrapped up into one singular horror.
Humans, though, can be a pretty resilient and innovative bunch, and, in the Harrisburg area, we’ve seen numerous cases of people using their specific strengths and skills to try to help those most affected.
Since the pandemic hit, we’ve written stories about these efforts, such as the Hope Tree, which blinks brightly every night in Riverfront Park, “Grub for Scrubs,” an initiative designed to assist both suffering restaurants and stressed health care workers, and, most recently, the “One Midtown” campaign. There are many others.
On Tuesday night, more hope arrived for hurting businesses, as Harrisburg City Council funded its portion of the $1 million Neighborhood Business Stabilization Program. This joint program between the city and the nonprofit Impact Harrisburg will award up to $10,000 to city-licensed businesses to help them weather the economic storm.
This program should be applauded for many reasons, but I especially like it because it shows that government, so often maligned, can be creative and focused in addressing an extremely serious problem—and one that ordinarily would fall outside its purview.
In the case of this new program, two entities have combined forces to put money exactly where it’s needed—to help keep small businesses in the city breathing until they’re able to survive on their own again.
Impact Harrisburg, a creature of the Harrisburg Strong Plan (remember that?), still has money available from when it was originally funded some seven years ago. Meanwhile, the city is turning an ugly duckling into a swan by tapping a stink-bomb of a program—the decades-old, dormant revolving loan program (I get nauseated just thinking about it)—where over $2 million sits awaiting good use.
No doubt the Impact Harrisburg board has a tough task ahead selecting who will receive funds. According to city Solicitor Neil Grover, the program is already over-subscribed with the application deadline still a week away.
I don’t envy their position. I’m confident that board members will use their best judgment, but they’re also setting themselves up for criticism, unfortunately. That often happens when selecting winners and losers, and now the stakes are especially high.
Also, I know my city, where, too often, no good deed goes unpunished, and some people always seem to be on the edge of outrage.
But, hey, tough times call for tough leaders, and that time has arrived for Impact Harrisburg. It may turn out that no applicant gets everything they want or need, but those who qualify get something. I’m interested to see they approach Harrisburg’s version of a Solomon’s choice.
So far, I’ve been incredibly impressed with this community’s imaginative and earnest response to the sudden catastrophe that’s befallen us. People have stepped up strongly to support health care workers, restaurants, businesses and even community journalism. We now can add city officials to this long list of creative thinkers piecing together creative solutions.
To learn more about the Neighborhood Business Stabilization Program, visit the Impact Harrisburg website.
Lawrance Binda is co-publisher and editor-in-chief of TheBurg.