TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — It's been nearly a year since COVID-19 shut businesses down. Even with doors back open, for many businesses, it's been hard to bounce back. That's why this Black History Month, there's now a greater focus to help support minority businesses.
ShaRon James started her business Impact Food in May of 2020.
"There are extraordinary barriers for black women entrepreneurs. Without folks networking and really championing your cause, you're really doomed to fail," said James.
Despite the barriers, James launched her first site amid the pandemic.
"The company was founded to address a social concern, which a lack of healthy accessible food in our community," said James.
As food insecurity heightens through COVID-19, Impact Food looks to provide locally made food at any street corner. The food is kept in a vending machine. Two machines carry both grocery staples and ready to eat meals and snacks like sandwiches and hummus. The third machine, which launched Tuesday, is for ready-made items only.
James says it couldn't have been possible without groups like The Leon County Office of Economic Vitality.
"We currently have 225 minority and women-owned businesses in our database and they employ over 15-hundred people," said OEV Director Cristina Paredes.
The office has a department specifically aimed at helping minority and women-owned businesses thrive. A large focus over 2020 was making sure those businesses were on an equal playing field when it came to money from the CARES Act.
"When dollars are on the table, we meet regularly with our stakeholders. To make sure the even when dollars come available, they can apply for that funding," said Capital City Chamber of Commerce President Katrina Tuggerson.
The Capital City Chamber of Commerce provides help to business owners that include applying for grants and loans, name exposure, and access to training.
Through a partnership with Starbucks, the Capital City Chamber is highlighting businesses like Impact Foods this Black History Month.
There are signs posted on the business doors at eight Tallahassee locations and one Thomasville location. The signs promote more than two dozen Black-owned businesses.
"This is a tool for those businesses to say my business was promoted by Starbucks," said Tuggerson.
It gives business owners like ShaRon James support that you cannot put a price tag on.
"We wouldn't be where we are in such a short time. That support is so important," said James.
Food Impact is currently in a pilot program. All vending machine locations are in downtown Tallahassee, which is a food desert. James says she hopes to eventually partner with more local food and catering companies and expand into more underserved parts of town.
For a full list of minority-owned businesses, you can find them on the Capital City Chamber of Commerce website.