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COVID-19 has been detrimental for many small business owners, but nonprofits like LiftFund are stepping up to help as many as they can.
Organically Bath & Beauty, a family-run business, lost nearly all its revenue at the start of the pandemic.
Kela Nabors’ daughter was 6 years old when she was diagnosed with eczema.
“At that time I was given some prescriptions, and I was told, ‘Put this on it. It’ll be fine,’” Nabors says.
When Nabors shared the prescription with her family’s pediatrician, they realized the medication could cause problems with prolonged use, such as kidney issues. They didn’t know how long they’d need to use the medication, either.
“After doing my own research, I had a lot of questions, a lot of concerns,” she says. “I started looking into all-natural alternatives for her skin.”
Realizing there were hundreds of chemicals in the skin care products she had been purchasing, Nabors took it upon herself to create a natural soap bar and a natural cream for her daughter, and they worked.
“I started sharing with family, ‘Hey, it’s working. Her skin is healing.’ She had discolorations all over her face, and all that went away,” she says. Nabors became passionate about making her own skin care products as she discovered that many others faced similar skin problems. Word of mouth quickly built up interest with potential customers.
Nabors realized she was on to something, but without any credit history or affordable access to conventional loans, she was only able to do so much. “At the time, not having any real loans or backing, it was hard just trying to keep up,” she says.
A former social worker who had just moved to San Antonio from Chicago, Nabors started searching for local resources that could help her grow. She found some classes hosted by a nonprofit called LiftFund that helped her learn about building credit. Then she learned about the other ways LiftFund could help entrepreneurs like herself.
LiftFund is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), a type of organization that works to provide the financial means necessary for economic development in communities that are often underserved. LiftFund started in 1994 with the goal of helping small businesses get off the ground or grow, so they can create more opportunities in their local economies.
Janie Barrera, LiftFund’s founding CEO, says the requirements for the loans LiftFund offers entrepreneurs — 83% of whom are from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds — are more flexible than traditional loans, and sometimes come with lower or no interest. In many cases, the entrepreneurs who need these loans can’t even qualify for traditional loans.
“You’ve got to have a certain FICO score. You’ve got to have a certain income and debt-to-equity ratio,” says Barrera, giving a partial list of the usual requirements. “CDFIs, we can be flexible and help people — eventually they get their credit scores into the 680s, the 700s.”
In 2016, with some help from LiftFund, Nabors was able to officially launch her business: Organically Bath & Beauty.
“We received a $5,000 loan early on,” she says. “It helped us to get some business credit, so we were able to build.”
Tactics like setting up at farmers markets helped Organically Bath & Beauty grow in its first few years. But running a small business doesn’t come without challenges — especially when something like COVID-19 happens.
Kela Nabors fills an order while watching for customers at Organically Bath & Beauty.
When the pandemic hit, it was as though the world stopped for many small business owners, including Nabors, who had left her previous career in 2019 to focus on her company. “We were doing in-person bath bomb classes, teaching people how to make their own soap. That all had to stop,” she says. “From storefront traffic to having the farmers markets close, it was just a total loss across the board. All the doors felt like they were closing. Our income went from, at the time it was maybe $10,000 to $15,000 a month, to, like, zero.”
In the entire month of March, Nabors says, they only brought in about $500. April wasn’t much better. Her husband, who also worked for the business, took on an additional part-time job to help cover their expenses.
“We have six kids, and this was our sole income,” she says. “We couldn’t cover payroll. Our savings were immediately wiped out. It was devastating. At the time, that $500 really felt like $5. I was just like, ‘What do we do?"
Once more, Nabors turned to her local community resources for any help she could find. She applied for dozens of COVID-19 relief grants through various sources but didn’t have any luck. She looked again to LiftFund, applying for a $5,000 grant.
When she reached out to LiftFund, they heard her. Through their grant assessment process, Nabors’ supporters at the local nonprofit realized that she needed more than just $5,000 to keep her business afloat — and a $1 million Truist Cares* grant to LiftFund made it possible for the nonprofit to fill that need.
LiftFund was ultimately able to provide a $25,000 COVID-19 relief grant to Organically Bath & Beauty.
Nabors greets LiftFund President Janie Barrera (right) at Organically Bath & Beauty.
“Literally, I cried. When they called and she said the number ... tears rolled,” Nabors says. “We’ve never received that much. We’ve never had that backing before, ever.”
The $1 million grant allowed LiftFund to provide relief grants to 80 small businesses like Nabors’.
And because LiftFund best understands the needs of the small businesses it serves, it was left up to the nonprofit to decide how the relief grants would be distributed.
“LiftFund’s support of small businesses sparks economic development and sustains growth in underserved neighborhoods, aligning seamlessly with our mission to inspire and build better lives and communities,” says Bill Toomey, Houston and Central Texas regional president at Truist. “As part of our larger response to COVID-19 relief needs through our Truist Cares initiative, this $1 million donation to LiftFund has extended a critical lifeline to 80 small businesses throughout Truist’s communities.”
With a grant sizable enough to give their business a chance at survival — but little store traffic in sight — Nabors and her husband went to work changing their strategy.
Customers could still come to the store, but only with an appointment. The Nabors revamped their website, invested in digital ads, continued working with LiftFund, and dove into various online groups to learn how to reach more customers. They started hosting virtual soap-making classes, and as their exposure grew, so did their online sales.
“It’s grown about six to seven times from where it was before the pandemic,” Nabors says. “We’re receiving anywhere from 50 to 70 orders a day. We used to only receive maybe one or two a week. That’s a huge jump.”
Before the pandemic, her company had three employees, including herself and her husband. Now it has eight. Most of the new hires had lost their previous jobs due to the pandemic — illustrating another highlight of the impact LiftFund’s work can have on communities.
Handmade bath bombs at Organically Bath & Beauty.
Before receiving the $25,000 grant, Nabors and her husband didn’t know much about the Truist Cares* initiative.
“They told me about the grant when I was selected, and why they were doing it,” she says. “They wanted to help small businesses during this time. They gave us, actually, a lot of information.”
It feels amazing, she says, to know other organizations trust nonprofits like LiftFund to do what’s best for the people they serve on a local level.
“It’s a local program that knows me. They know my story. They know my business,” Nabors says. “The fact that they gave the grant to a local agency who really keeps a good relationship with the community and knows their clients — I feel like that is so important.”
Truist is proud to be a part of resilient communities that motivate us to build better lives every day. Seeing how our community partners have stepped up in the face of COVID-19 inspired us to form the Truist Cares* initiative, a $50 million commitment to help support youth, seniors, the workforce, small businesses, and increased connectivity. For more stories about the work our partners are doing, visit truist.com/truistcares.
*About Truist Cares: Truist Cares is a cooperative effort between Truist Financial Corporation, Truist Foundation, Inc., and Truist Charitable Fund to provide communities, organizations and individuals disaster relief and assistance during the COVID-19 crisis.
Truist Financial Corporation is a purpose-driven financial services company committed to inspire and build better lives and communities. With 275 years of combined BB&T and SunTrust history, Truist serves approximately 12 million households with leading market share in many high-growth markets in the country. The company offers a wide range of services including retail, small business and commercial banking; asset management; capital markets; commercial real estate; corporate and institutional banking; insurance; mortgage; payments; specialized lending; and wealth management. Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, Truist is the sixth-largest commercial bank in the U.S. with total assets of $504 billion as of June 30, 2020. Truist Bank, Member FDIC. Learn more at Truist.com.