30 Day Fund keeps local firms afloat

By Walt Frank

Altoona Mirror

The Blair County 30 Day Fund has helped dozens of local businesses.

The local effort was an offshoot of the statewide Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, which was launched in May by Jeff Bartos, Richard Phillips and Roger Braunfeld.

The fund’s goal was to help save as many Pennsylvania jobs as possible while small businesses awaited federal funding. It raised about $2.5 million and funded nearly 600 businesses, said Bartos, fund chairman.

Blair County formed its own oversight board to review applications with all money raised in Blair County going to Blair County businesses, said Jim Foreman, partner at ProCare and facilitator of the fund for Blair County.

“Through Sept. 2, we raised over $190,000 and funded 64 Blair County businesses. We were really pleased with our local board and the ability to reach all parts of the community,” Foreman said. “We had about 70 donors. It was a mixture of individuals, families and businesses. Donations ran the gamut from $25, $50 and $100 donations up to multi-thousand dollar donations from people and businesses.”

Bartos believed Blair County would be successful.

“Within hours of deciding that we were going to start the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, I called my friend, Jim Foreman, and asked him what he thought of the idea and also whether he thought we could organize a group of local Blair County business leaders to help save small businesses in Blair County at this challenging time,” Bartos said.

“Jim loved the idea, and very quickly organized an amazing group of local leaders, who were committed to the mission of helping to save small businesses,” Bartos said. “The broader community likewise rallied to the cause, and the outpouring of support and love for small businesses has been inspiring.”

Recipients who received $3,000 forgivable loans were pleased.

“It was awesome. It helped us so much and helped a lot of other places,” said Mark Bates, own­er of Fat Daddy’s BBQ Shaq, Altoona. “We were in bad shape. It got us out of trouble, and it worked out nice. … It was a bad time, and we were ready to close, but this got us started back up.”

George Batrus, owner of Tom and Joe’s Restaurant in Altoona, said, “It was a great program, I was pleasantly surprised how easy the application process was. I feel like it had a sense of local community. It was important as an extra bit of injection to enable us to keep doing what we were doing on a financial level. That was a nice addition to get us through what we were dealing with.”

The program also helped Duncansville’s Front Street Subs tremendously, owner Brett Weibley said.

“When the pandemic hit, it helped us to make some adjustments to keep us open and keep our employees working,” Weibley said. “We did not have to lay anyone off. We also opened a drive-thru window.”

Committee members were impressed by how the community responded.

“The community re­sponse was one that is not unusual for Blair County — rapid, enthusiastic, sincere and widespread. The response time, number of gifts, spirit of the volunteers and magnitude of the gifts, all were well above other participating Pennsylvania counties in per-capita gifts, and in many cases, total grants awarded,” said Doug Wolf, committee chairman.

Committee member Don Witherspoon said Blair County’s “response was absolutely tremendous, we helped about 64 businesses, the committee was absolutely fantastic. I was glad to play a little part in making the community better and whole. The community pulled together.”

The community em­­braced it, not just by transactions but the spirit of the program, Foreman said.

“It was so uplifting. It was like neighbors helping neighbors,” Foreman said. “It was not charity, it was support and evidenced in every call.”

The campaign lasted longer than expected.

“We went into extra innings — the intent was for a quick strike helping fund,” Foreman said. “Businesses were shut down. It ended up more than 90 days because of the needs of the community. The simplicity of the mission and what we were focused on allowed the committee and mission to move quickly and seamlessly.’

Foreman said applications were reviewed quickly and once fully approved, the businesses had their money within 24 hours.

“People had immediate needs,” he said, “and we wanted to respond in an immediate fashion.”