San Manuel Band of Mission Indians suprises local businesses with $1 million donation

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Photos San Manuel Band of Mission Indians:  From left, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Tribal Secretary Johnny Hernandez, San Manuel Business Committee Member Audrey Martinez, Mi Cocina owners Norma Arroyo, Carlos Lopez, and Armando Arroyo, and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Chairman Ken Ramirez.
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The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians surprised 50 local business owners with a $20,000 grant from its Small Business Relief Fund on Friday, Jan. 29. Business owners gathered virtually and in-person for the announcement of the grant amount not previously revealed.

Confetti cannons popped to celebrate San Manuel Chairman Ken Ramirez’s announcement that each of the 50 selected local businesses would receive $20,000. Jovanna Rodriguez, the owner of Jovi’s Diner in San Bernardino, joined Ramirez on stage, representing business owners.

“It gives me great pleasure to announce that 50 small businesses are receiving a grant for $20,000 each for a total of one million dollars from San Manuel Cares,” San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Chairman Ken Ramirez announced as confetti cannons popped overhead. “We hope that we have found the best way to assist you and I hope that what we do here today prompts others to do the same, which is support our local businesses, to give as much as you can to keep the communities thriving,” 

According to San Manuel Business Committee Member Audrey Martinez, the tribe demonstrates their call to Yawa’ by supporting local small businesses. Yawa’ is a Serrano term that means to act on one’s belief, San Manuel’s belief that it can be stewards of the land and its inhabitants. This financial assistance is an example of their culture of giving.

“Since the pandemic hit us we have worked hard to identify how we can help those most impacted,” Martinez remarked, also noting that over the past year San Manuel has donated PPEs to front line workers, hosted blood drives, delivered food, and brought financial relief to those struggling to pay rent, but they wanted to do more.

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Tansu Phillips and David Friedman, owners of Viva La Boba in San Bernardino, were one of three businesses that attended the socially-distanced event in-person.

According to Tribal Secretary Johnny Hernandez, San Manuel’s Strategic Philanthropy Team collaborated with Inland Empire Economic Partnership (IEEP) to identify businesses for the grant, aimed to provide a hand up to small “mom and pop” shops considered “non-essential” in the region to not only survive but to thrive. Funds will be managed and distributed through IEEP.

Businesses were selected based on their participation in San Bernardino County’s COVID-Compliant Business Partnership Program, commitment to communities on the tribe’s ancestral lands that span the San Bernardino valley, up the San Bernardino Mountains, and outward to the High Desert, and businesses most severely impacted by the virus.

“An unexpected gift like this can mean the difference between keeping the doors open or closing and losing the family business forever,” Hernandez said. “It means (businesses) can have some peace of mind in these unsettling times.”

The grant will provide financial support with paycheck protection, cash flow assistance to cover operational expenses, debt relief, and business improvements.

“I’m beyond emotional, and grateful and excited!” exclaimed Jovanna Rodriguez, owner of Jovi’s Diner in San Bernardino, whose priority is to bring employees back to work, citing laying them off was the most devastating part of the pandemic. “This is life-changing. Thank you for the opportunity to continue my business, to provide and help my community.”

Rhonda Moss, the owner of Party Plus in Loma Linda, plans to use the funds for payroll, rent, utilities, and overall operating expenses. 

“We are all emotional and extremely grateful for this opportunity,” said Moss who has been in business for 39 years. “We’ve been hit pretty hard, but we will be stronger after this.”

Paul Granillo, president and CEO of IEEP, set the stage for the announcement by sharing the devastating effects the pandemic has had on the Inland Empire economy, noting that almost 50% of the small businesses in the region reported a large negative effect from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We are moved by your generosity,” Granillo addressed Ramirez. “An immediate relief this gift is going to be for struggling businesses throughout San Bernardino and Riverside counties, so we want to say ‘thank you.’”

Businesses range from restaurants, hair salons, gyms, and other service-oriented businesses ordered to shut their doors. 

For a full list of recipients and their backstories, visit www.sanmanuelcares.org/small-business-relief-fund/.

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