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Community updates: Monday, June 22

'Social zones' open in Grand Rapids to aid restaurant recovery; Kent County and Grand Rapids Chamber launch Small Business Recovery Program for local businesses impacted by pandemic; and Heart of West Michigan United Way adds more in-person volunteer opportunities to website.
Grand Rapids' Downtown Ambassadors installed tables and chairs for its downtown social zones on Friday.

Grand Rapids' Downtown Ambassadors installed tables and chairs for its downtown social zones on Friday. /Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.

'Social zones' open in Grand Rapids to aid restaurant recovery

Grand Rapids' first outdoor social zones opened this weekend, aiming to help restaurants and bars reopening with capacity limits and COVID-related setbacks.

With a 50-percent indoor capacity limit for these businesses in place, the zones enable expanded outdoor dining and social space so they can serve more customers and maintain six-feet distancing. The zone plan was approved by Grand Rapids’ city commissioners in May.

Included in the social zones are seating for customers to enjoy takeout meals, as well as alcoholic drinks purchased from nearby restaurants. The first four zones set up on Friday are all downtown – Monroe North, Bridge St., Center City, and Heartside.

“The idea is simply to let restaurants serve more customers while allowing those who don’t want to go indoors yet to feel safe,” said Lou Canfield, the City of Grand Rapids’ acting Assistant Director of Design, Development, and Community Engagement. “It’s a new concept for us and will be experimental in some ways. We are ready to work with interested businesses and business organizations to make it work for them.”

The City of Grand Rapids has been working with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) and the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce to make the social zones a reality.

DGRI, administrator of the first four zones, is working directly with downtown businesses to determine different set-ups that will support these businesses, while following public health guidelines. DGRI's also helping with garbage removal, table cleaning, and other place management services.

“We know that these last three months have been stressful for many of our local businesses, so we’re doing our best to help make their transition to getting back to their daily operations less cumbersome and more efficient,” said Andy Guy, Chief Outcomes Officer for DGRI.

More details about Grand Rapids’ social zones, and how businesses can apply for them, are available on the City of Grand Rapids’ website.


Kent County and Grand Rapids Chamber launch Small Business Recovery Program for local businesses impacted by pandemic

Kent County and the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce have joined together to launch the Kent County Small Business Recovery Program, they announced last week. The fund will deliver short-term, financial support to select small businesses in the county in their COVID-19 recovery efforts.

County businesses eligible for the fund are those that’ve not been able to access, or have been declined, local, state, or federal relief funds, or need additional support to survive the pandemic’s impact.

Additionally, the fund will prioritize businesses that may be dealing with additional barriers including, but not limited to, language, general business knowledge, and those from underserved communities.

The source of the fund is the federal CARES Act. Kent County commissioners voted to disperse $25 million in CARES Act dollars they’d been allotted to the fund.

The COVID-19 pandemic has truly been devastating to our community and this recovery program is another tool our small businesses can use to get through the COVID-19 crisis,” said Kent County's Board of Commissioners Chair, Mandy Bolter. “It was critical for our Board to quickly respond to the needs of the business community because these grants will not only help our small businesses, but our entire economy recover.”

Businesses with 0-25 employees may qualify for recovery relief ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. Size of business, operating costs, and additional scoring metrics are determining factors.

More details about the Small Business Recovery Program are available on the Grand Rapids Chamber’s website.


Heart of West Michigan United Way adds more in-person local volunteer opportunities to website

Loosened social restrictions in Michigan related to COVID-19 have brought back to life many in-person volunteer opportunities for local residents. Heart of West Michigan United Way (HWMUW) updated their website with many of these opportunities, it announced last week.

“With the reductions of the Shelter in Place Order, in person volunteer opportunities have been greatly changed,” HWMUW said on its website. “Many agencies are beginning to seek in-person volunteers again, with changes to safety and screenings.”

Opportunities include meal delivery at Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth, crowd control at Fulton Street Farmers Market, food delivery and grant-writing with Noor’s Heaven of West Michigan Services, and order-packing with The Other Way Ministries.

For those still weary of returning to in-person social settings due to the pandemic, ways to volunteer by phone, computer, and other remote means are also available. Remote and in-person volunteer needs can be found on the Volunteer Needs page on HWMUW’s website.


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