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'Tiny piece of hope' | How St. Louis came together to take care of their own

The Gateway Resilience Fund has raised a total of $1.9 million and distributed more than 3,100 grants to people who were out of work
Credit: Fresh Art Photography/Jodie Allen
Fresh Art Photography

ST. LOUIS — Jodie Allen was on track to have one of the best years in a 13-year career as a photographer.

She had bookings scheduled through the spring, capturing moments and milestones for families, from newborn sessions to graduation sessions.

To get the perfect shot of a sleeping baby or a wiggly toddler, Allen often has to come within inches of her clients.

"My job is to give joy to the parents and capture these moments," Allen said. "But my joy comes from loving on the kids."

This spring, it all came to a halt.

"It just felt like a record scratch," she said.

Allen closed her business, Fresh Art Photography. She canceled bookings. She sent refunds to clients. The bills, though, kept coming.

"Here I am drowning in everything that’s happening," she said. "Small business owners instantly felt the weight of the world on their shoulders. Instantly."

Credit: Jodie Allen/Fresh Art Photography
Fresh Art Photography

At the onset of the pandemic, the state had not set up unemployment applications for those who are self-employed and Allen was unsure about whether she should apply for other loans. One of Allen's friends even offered to loan her thousands of dollars to help pay her mortgage and business expenses, but she declined.

Then, Allen heard about the Gateway Resilience Fund.

She applied and soon received a check for $500. Though the money wouldn't be enough to cover her studio rent or the big other bills she was facing, it helped in a different way.

"It felt like somebody cared about me and cared that my studio is struggling."

Allen's friend, who made the generous offer, made a large donation to the fund. It was a gesture that still brings Allen to tears.

"She didn’t just help me. She helped people like me," Allen said.

Allen is one of about 3,100 people in St. Louis who received money through the Gateway Resilience Fund. It has raised a total of about $1.9 million.

RELATED: Support businesses and charities with the virtual Gateway Resilience Run and Ride

The fund started from a single anonymous donor who wanted to help struggling restaurant employees and it grew, according to Amelia Bond, the CEO of the St. Louis Community Foundation, the nonprofit that manages the fund.

Donations started pouring in from individuals and businesses, ranging from $20 to thousands. And so did the applications.

"As you can imagine, it was a flood," Bond said.

Employees of locally-owned, independent restaurants, bars, music venues, micro-retail and micro-businesses like day care providers and those working in other service fields were eligible. The fund is no longer accepting applications, but donations are still trickling in, Bond said.

"It was so heartwarming to watch St. Louis come together," Bond said.

Credit: Jodie Allen/Fresh Art Photography
Fresh Art Photography

As for Allen, she said she is still working on slowly and carefully rebuilding her business. From a distance, she photographs families at home for front-porch sessions and has photographed other other outdoor sessions. She is also finding ways to support her family.

Allen said she knows it will be a struggle. Though this year was not what she had hoped and planned for, she said it's also come with glimmers of goodness and kindness.

"To everybody that gave money, I just feel like you you gave all of us that were really hurting this tiny piece of hope. There are people in our community that care."

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