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Program aims to help small businesses, families amid coronavirus outbreak

The #SupportSpaCity program is a website that offers a portal to buy gift cards. The money is matched and donated to Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark — A partnership of civic groups in Hot Springs aims to offer some support for the many small businesses forced to close amid the virus outbreak, while also providing support for families in need who may have lost steady paychecks.

The #SupportSpaCity program is a website set up by the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce. It offers a portal to buy gift cards, with the Hot Springs Area Community Foundation matching the money spent and turning the funds into donations to Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic.

"It all came together by emails, texts, and phone calls," said Joyce Whitfield, the executive director of the non-profit. "We were able to get $25,000 to fund it in just about four days."

"It's a win-win program and we're so pleased to be in the partnership," said Kim Carter, the director of the CCMC, a free clinic that focuses on people who have fallen through the cracks.

"We've seen an outpouring of support," said Cole McCaskill, the V.P. of development for the chamber. "In the first 48 hours, we've already raised $5000 for those local small businesses."

"As of right now we have about 63 businesses on there," said Mara Kuhn, communications manager for the chamber who helped build the site. "They vary between retail, hospitality and attractions, restaurants and bars."

The need is growing fast in the community.

"Rent's due, and so in the last two days, our amount of need has gone through the roof," said Carter, who also said the staff is already vetting candidates for grocery store cards.

"The community foundation with the funds that we've raised, we match dollar for dollar the business gift cards that have been purchased," said Whitfield. "Those of us who haven't been affected with loss of income or loss of job can get in here and rally and support those who have."

The team sees the program as a way to help both coming and going, as well as both now and after the outbreak subsides.

"Hot Springs will bounce back from this, and it's this kind of program, this kind of generosity, sense of community, that gives me that assurance," said Carter.

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