Oak Park non-profit and community organization Suburban Unity Alliance (SUA) has been quietly fundraising since Oct. 29 to generate money to award $500 microgrants to small businesses in need during the continuous COVID-19 pandemic. With $4,800 accumulated as of Nov. 25, the organization is ready to start distributing it on a first-come-first-serve basis.

“Small businesses, specifically, play a vital role in our community,” said SUA founder and community activist Anthony Clark. “They’re the anchor of our community.”

The widespread economic impact of COVID-19 has left multiple businesses and organizations struggling to survive. To show support for small businesses in the Oak Park community, Clark created a GoFundMe page where people can make donations in any amount to the relief fund.

“If you could give 50 cents, $1 do, and if you can’t, don’t because we understand everyone is struggling out here,” said Clark. Clark is currently a candidate for Oak Park village trustee in the April 2021 election.

The GoFundMe will be active throughout the pandemic, which has no determinable expiration date. SUA will continuously distribute the $500 microgrants as donations come in.

All businessowners have to do to apply for the loan is reach out to Clark, either by emailing him at anthony@suburbanunity.org or via SUA’s Facebook page.

SUA does not require any formal application or paperwork; simply asking for help is sufficient. The microgrants do not need to be repaid and can be used toward payroll, tax payments, purchases supplies or any other expenses.

“The only caveat is that it has to be business related,” said Clark.

SUA relies on the honor system. Recipients do not need to supply receipts to prove that the microgrant was used as intended.

Clark defines small businesses as having 100 or fewer employees but he said SUA does not intend to be finicky about that.

“We’re not going to say no if you have 101 employees,” he said.

The Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce has agreed to help identify and connect small businesses to SUA’s relief fund. Clark intends to reach out to Pumpkin Moon, his favorite local small business, himself.

While not a large sum of money, Clark believes it could offer some reprieve, while showing local businesses that the community cares about their survival.

A familiar face in Oak Park with well-known political aspirations, Clark is also a teacher at Oak Park and River Forest High School. He acknowledged that some might consider the microgrants a publicity stunt to generate interest in his campaign for a seat on the village board.

“When you put yourself out there, there’s always going to be naysayers,” he said.

SUA’s philanthropic work began with its 2016 founding, which according to Clark, was long before he sought any elected offices. 

“Our efforts are indeed genuine, and we will continue to be genuine.”

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