“Would you like some more water?”
Through rote learning, that was one of the first English phrases Colombian immigrant Lina Mills (photo, third from right) consistently spoke as she toiled away during night shifts at a San Francisco Bay Area restaurant. That entry-level position afforded the 16-year-old the time to be fully engrossed in her studies during the day.
It’s been quite the journey from that initial server job to being ready to soon open your own brick-and-mortar combination grab-and-go café/catering space. In between were many growing pains for Lina’s labor of love, Creative Ideas Catering SF, including her self-described “rollercoaster ride” during the pandemic. Yet through it all, nonprofit MEDA, and its Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Fondo Adelante, assisted Lina so she could best weather the storm and keep running her business that showcases a menu focused on global fusion cuisine inspired by Latin favors.
Such succor would not have been possible without a decade-long legacy of MEDA’s community-development work being funded by Wells Fargo. The most recent funding was $1.5 million for small business lending and microenterprise development technical assistance services – awarded via the Open for Business (OFB) CDFI Program grant and the OFB Technical Assistance Program grant – to assist the low-income Latino and immigrant community of San Francisco.
Thanks to OFB, which is a roughly $420 million small business recovery effort across the nation, MEDA has been able to provide numerous Latino small business owners with grants, low-interest loans and support needed to emerge from the pandemic. Application assistance is offered by MEDA’s certified CDFI, Fondo Adelante (Mission Community Loan Fund LLC).
In early 2020, things were looking up for Creative Ideas Catering SF. The building Lina purchased was ready to be renovated and equipment had been ordered. Her business was poised to scale: With her three sons now older, Lina finally had the time in the evenings to participate in MEDA’s free eight-week business workshop, but soon thereafter COVID-19 had another idea. In March 2020, businesses were forced to shutter their doors overnight. Like ventures in every corner of the globe, Lina’s customer base dried up. A “cerrado” (“closed”) sign hung in her front window. In need of resources, a determined Lina took virtual business workshops from MEDA, especially around social media.
“I had to pivot. I never needed social media before because I was turning away business,” explains Lina. “Overnight, catering turned into home deliveries.”
This new marketing strategy enabled the entrepreneur to push forward, yet the struggle to carry on seemed like a Herculean task. So Lina came to MEDA when she heard that Fondo Adelante CDFI was packaging loan applications for the potentially forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) federal loan program. Wells Fargo’s OFB funding enabled MEDA to nimbly meet the urgent pandemic-response needs of imperiled small businesses such as Lina’s. MEDA offered culturally relevant assistance with Creative Ideas Catering SF’s application, and as a result, their $68,000 PPP loan was approved; true to the program, seven staff remained employed (meeting PPP’s stated purpose, this loan has now been forgiven.) Eventually, a second PPP loan for $93,000 was garnered, again with application assistance offered by MEDA, and with the paperwork funneled through neighborhood partner, Self-Help Federal Credit Union.
Lina took part in an additional Fondo Adelante CDFI emergency-response lending program supported by Wells Fargo to help San Francisco small businesses stabilize and even grow through the challenges posed by the pandemic, and beyond. Creative Ideas Catering SF was approved for a $50,000 loan from Fondo Adelante CDFI in June 2021, enabling the business to stabilize and strengthen operations with 0%-interest, zero-collateral and flexible underwriting criteria,
Explains a thankful Lina, “The assistance I received helped me see that there was light at the end of the tunnel.”
Lina’s story of resilience and hope is one of hundreds being heard across San Francisco, with small business owners assisted and now looking to go back to thriving rather than surviving. The ongoing partnership of Wells Fargo and MEDA offered these ventures a lifeline during the unprecedented challenges presented by the pandemic.
“I am ready to scale my businesses, opening my space soon and hiring four more employees, all from the local community. My long-range business plan includes my becoming a mentor for other community members looking to start their own small business. I have received so much help over the years, and I want to give back,” concludes Lina, looking to pay it forward.
Wells Fargo and MEDA now look forward to when Lina consistently says a new line, this one being, “Would you like some advice on how to start a small business?”
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