Tina Thomas sits in front of her business, Little Comforts Childcare.

Wilmington Strong Fund: “The grant relieved financial pressure at a really difficult time”

21 December 2020

When the pandemic hit, Tina Thomas was forced to temporarily close the doors of the daycare she had built up in Delaware, US, over a decade. We hear how the Wilmington Strong Fund, a community alliance backing local businesses with support from by Barclays, helped her save Little Comforts Childcare and rescue her finances.

After 10 years as a successful childcare professional, Tina Thomas was concerned about having to close her business for two months when the pandemic spread to Wilmington, Delaware. Tina had been running Little Comforts Childcare since January 2011, and in 2020 she was caring for six children full-time.

“I started Little Comforts with my own baby and one other child, and I was so excited,” recalls Tina. “Little Comforts supports our local community by providing low-income families with a full-time childcare service, and we also offer a flexible schedule for parents with non-traditional working hours.”

In March 2020, Tina was looking forward to a well-earned vacation. Instead, she cancelled her flight as the world began to lock down and, when she reopened her doors later that month, only four children showed up. “The parents told me they were going to keep their children at home instead,” explains Tina. “As the number of children in my care gradually fell, I decided to temporarily close my business in April.”

The challenges that followed, including a few attempts to reopen and catching COVID-19 herself, left Tina in a difficult financial position. So, in the summer of 2020, a grant from the Wilmington Strong Fund provided welcome relief.

Gabrielle Lantieri, Economic Development Manager at Cornerstone West CDC, stands by her car.

As Economic Development Manager at Cornerstone West CDC, Gabrielle Lantieri helped to bring essential funds to small businesses during the pandemic.

That immediate, upfront commitment from Barclays, during a time when nothing was guaranteed, was amazing.

Gabrielle Lantieri

Economic Development Manager at Cornerstone West CDC

Little Comforts’ deserted yard.

When the pandemic hit, Tina had to temporarily close Little Comforts Childcare, the daycare she opened 10 years ago.

“The funding we got from Barclays had a huge impact”

Launched in 2020 by community development organisations Cornerstone West CDC and Wilmington Alliance, the Wilmington Strong Fund is one of hundreds of charitable organisations across the globe to benefit from Barclays’ £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package.

With a US $100,000 grant from Barclays, the Wilmington Strong Fund was able to support 196 small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic – Little Comforts among them. Micro-grants of US $1,000 were awarded to local businesses to cover expenses such as rent, mortgage, utility and supplier bills, bolstering the business owners’ capacity to recover from the impact of lockdown.

“The funding we got from Barclays had a huge impact,” says Gabrielle Lantieri, Economic Development Manager at Cornerstone West CDC. “That kind of immediate, upfront commitment to a completely new funding programme, during a time when nothing was guaranteed, was amazing.”

We wanted to develop a process that was really fast and simple”

When COVID-19 first began to spread in the US, Lantieri found the hardest part was “the feeling of helplessness”.

“My entire job is about problem-solving, and not being able to help businesses in need was really hard,” she says. “Some business owners didn’t understand why they had to close while other businesses could stay open. And there was a lack of funding available to small businesses that didn’t involve interest or loan repayments.

“In the US, there’s already a big racial gap in terms of access to capital. We could see that Black and brown businesses with low-to-moderate income were being excluded from state and federal resources during the pandemic, so we wanted to fill that gap, and develop a process that was really fast and simple.”

With Barclays’ support, the Cornerstone West and Wilmington Alliance teams were able to achieve that goal, working hard to ensure that the majority of the Fund’s grants went to smaller businesses with an annual revenue below US $150,000, and to predominantly minority-owned and women-owned businesses.

They also focused their attention on significant cultural businesses – “like Dominican and Puerto Rican restaurants, folks that have been serving their community for over 10 years. We were particularly mindful to support businesses in ‘brick and mortar’ locations to help local store fronts remain occupied.”

“Now, my business is thriving again”

When the Fund launched, Lantieri was overwhelmed by the response. “I think we got 100 applicants in the first round. It really demonstrated the need,” she says.

“After that, my focus was to make sure people got their applications in, that they accepted the grant and that they received their cheque. I was so engrossed in doing the work, that there was never any time to stop and celebrate what we had achieved. It felt like a year of being in constant crisis mode.”

But Lantieri’s efforts were certainly not in vain. For businesses like Little Comforts Childcare, the Wilmington Strong Fund’s grant came at exactly the right time.

“It was a huge relief because I was able to pay my mortgage for another month, and purchase curriculum to keep conducting Zoom sessions with my children,” says Tina. “While I was closed, I provided ‘circle time’ to children online during the daytime which parents loved – we read books and sang together, and it gave their children something to look forward to.

“Now, my business is thriving again. My long-term goal is to expand Little Comforts Childcare by moving the business out of my home, and opening up a store front or centre.”

Reflecting on her experience during the pandemic, Tina adds: “The grant relieved the financial pressure at a really difficult time, and I still cannot thank the Wilmington Strong Fund enough.”

Barclays’ COVID-19 Community Aid Package

Barclays has established a £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package to support communities impacted by the social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic. It consists of two components: charitable donations to non-profit partners working in the communities where Barclays operates; and a commitment to match personal colleague donations to their chosen non-profits who are helping COVID-19 relief efforts in their communities.

Find out more about Barclays’ COVID-19 Community Aid Package.