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Helping Five Towns businesses to survive and thrive

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Two organizations totaling more than 200 years of existence have partnered to offer small businesses in the Five Towns and surrounding communities an interest-free, no-fee loan up to $50,000.

Cedarhurst-based Community Chest South Shore, which was established in 1936, and the 129-year-old Hebrew Free Loan Society headquartered in Manhattan, are collaborating on a $1 million loan program that aims to keep existing small businesses operating and could help new businesses with a strong business plan.

Community Chest is a nonprofit umbrella organization with a mission to assist charitable institutions and organizations such as the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC, the Five Towns Community Center and the Five Towns Early Childhood Center, and has helped individuals and families.

“Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Community Chest has been actively involved in supporting and working with our social service organization partners to help meet the needs of families and individuals facing economic challenges brought on by the crisis,” said Steve Liebman, Chest’s treasurer. “We decided to roll out a micro-loan program to assist qualifying local small businesses.”

By providing access to affordable credit through interest-free loans, the Hebrew Free Loan Society has made a difference by enabling borrowers to start a business, pay for education and emergency expenses. The organization is a non-sectarian lender. A person does not have to be Jewish to apply or receive a loan.

“It’s a fantastic way to make people aware of a community resource everyone might not know about though we have been around since 1892 and help those who need business financing,” said Rabbi David Rosenn, the society’s president for the past six years.

Adam Kaufman a Community Chest vice president and the group’s secretary, said that board member Michelle Schornstein noted that because of the resulting pandemic economic fallout, businesses were closing and asked if there way they could help.

Chest had to amend its charter with the New York State Attorney General’s office to help for-profit businesses as its bylaws only allowed monetary donations to nonprofit organizations.

“I have a client who is on the finance board of the Hebrew Free Loan Society that over the years have had incredible success making interest free loans to individuals to help with college, pay medical bills and a small business program,” said Kaufman, who is a lawyer with a practice in Woodmere.

Instead of reinventing the wheel and creating a loan program, which Kaufman said is complicated, Community Chest partnered with the loan society. “This is an incredible opportunity to help a lot of people that are struggling with dignity to stay afloat and come out the other end thriving,” he said.

Information will be made available on Community Chest South Shore’s website. Using media, social media, local business groups and word-of-mouth advertising the program will be rolled for an indefinite time. Kaufman said if it is successful they hope to repeat it.

The loans are geared for low to moderate income businesses or a startup that has a business plan. Rosenn said the loans will depend on need.

“If a business owner needs a $25,000 piece of equipment or money to do customer outreach, people can apply based on their stated business needs,” he said.

The loan applicationcan be accessed at https://communitychestss.org/.