BALTIMORE (WJZ) — As numerous small businesses try to hang on amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Maryland Baltimore is expanding a program to help them keep their doors open.

The program began in west Baltimore but has now expanded to help businesses citywide.

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Last year, Chanel Fleurimond, the owner of Sobeachy Haitian Cuisine inside Cross Street Market, began to realize she needed help as the pandemic began to reshape life in the city.

“We were operating in the negative every single week, every single month… one emergency and we were done,” she recalled.

Fleurimond and her husband reached out to Madison Haas, a customer of theirs and an economic inclusion specialist at the university.

As the pandemic raged, Haas created the Small Business Volunteer Initiative.

“We partnered with MBA students to provide assistance to small businesses across Baltimore City to kind of help them navigate the changes that the pandemic brought,” Haas said.

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The program helps small businesses adjust to COVID-19 restrictions and navigate the difficult steps to apply for state and federal grants. It’s a difficult process to pull off for those who are busy running their businesses.

“They don’t have time to really be spending all of their hours working on this sort of stuff where larger businesses may have a team of people that can spend hours of the day navigating how to get PPP loans (and) grants,” Haas said.

It helped Fleurimond get a $21,000 restaurant assistance grant in December, a lifesaver for her businesses.

Jonathan Ramirez, the owner of Reuben’s Mexican Food, had to change things up at his restaurant on Charles Street when the pandemic began. He also turned to the university’s initiative.

“We were growing and it kind of stopped us from that growth, so we had to pivot and do new strategies for marketing, sales and all the other stuff,” he said.

Businesses looking to get involved with the program can email madisonhaas@umaryland.edu or call 410-706-8260.

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For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

Stetson Miller