BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Business Aid: Berkeley Heights distributed the second round of relief grants to 47 businesses thanks to the combined effort of over 500 locals that donated to raise over $109,000 for the cause.

"This means everything," said Dr. Patrick Smith, Chairman of Berkeley Heights Business & Civic and an organizer of Business Aid: BH. "I've seen a thriving community stopped in its tracts by a global pandemic. I've seen our small businesses forced to close. I've seen hardships of all kinds. -- But, I've also seen a community come together -- young and old; black, brown and white men and women, boys and girls, rich and poor -- all to lend a helping hand up to a group of small businesses struggling," said Smith.

The Business Aid initiative was brought to Dr. Smith by resident Sheryl Manfreda with the thought of starting a Go-Fund-Me account, and it took off to be much more with businesses, organizations, and residents rallying to help.

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"I am so thankful to live in a town where the people respect and help each other," said Manfreda. "As we began the COVID-19 quarantine in March, driving through Berkeley Heights with non-essential businesses closed felt like a ghost town, empty and unsettling. I wondered what our town would be like if the businesses didn’t survive." 

She moved to do her part and contacted Dr. Smith to get permission to set up a Go-Fund-Me page for the town. Smith and Hilary [Boothby of Anything Floral] did one better, said Manfreda. "They took action and were able to set up a dedicated electronic space to support donations and provide emergency assistance grants to BH small businesses facing COVID-19 related hardships," she said.

"Seeing donations rising daily and support from our community leaders (i.e. School Board President, Superintendent of Schools, Rotary Club, etc) on The BH Community Forum and TAPinto was exhilarating," said Manfreda. "The first round of grant distributions to local businesses was timely and filled an urgent need to help support. The Connell Company’s generous corporate matching donation served to stimulate $50,000 of additional funds for grant distribution and the final push with the Rotary Club Virtual Auction brought total contributions to $109,000! I was touched by the many business owners who expressed deep gratitude and thanks to the community for recognizing their very real need." She added, "I am so thankful that together, we have made a difference for our local businesses who have always been there for us."

Smith also recognized The Connell Company for their $50,000 in matching grants. It was important to the Connell family to help out in any way they could. "The Connell Company is committed to supporting Berkeley Heights," said Shane Connell, Executive Vice President of The Connell Company. "We have been a proud Berkeley Heights business for over 35 years, and some of our employees and Connell Park’s office tenant employees live in town. All our tenants and hotel guests greatly enjoy the conveniences and services of downtown Berkeley Heights. As a community, if one struggles, we all struggle. -- If the local businesses are not around post COVID-19, our community will never be normal again," he said.  

Smith also mentioned the many other creative fundraisers. He went on to list the various efforts: Smith Chiropractic Foundation matching grant; BH loves local Biz group; Brett’s Buzz; Virtual 4 buck Cup a Joe, thanks to Hilary [Boothby]; Taylor Rental's propane tank fill contributions; and the Tailor's Wife facemask fundraiser.

Smith also recognized the Berkeley Heights Rotary Club for volunteering to host and help to organize a "major" virtual silent auction fundraiser in two weeks time thanks to Jim Ramentol, Jim Kwan, Tiffany Escott and Michael DelDuca and many other Rotarians who helped with the auction.

"The Berkeley Heights Rotary Club (BHRC) has always stepped up to help the community.  The Rotary  International motto, 'Service Above Self'  has never been more appropriate than during this COVID 19 pandemic," said Jim Ramentol, president of the BHRC. "The BHRC was more than happy to step up to help the BHB&C raise funds for to help local business in Berkeley Heights.  The idea of a 'virtual' Silent  Auction was discussed several weeks ago, and we were happy to step up and sponsor the event.  From what I understand, the event was a success." The auction raised over $14,000 from auction items donated by local businesses and residents that had a combined value of about $21,000. "The Rotary Club looks forward to the next community event that we can assist,” said Ramentol.

Smith credits the collaborative effort of many for the success of Business Aid: BH. "We distributed emergency relief to 47 local businesses in need fairly and equitably," he said. "I’ve seen what love and generosity looks like in small town America, most of all I’ve seen how powerful a community is when it comes together. Has it been easy, nope, has it been a lot of effort, yep, was it worth it...absolutely.”

Dr. Smith thanked the following groups who helped with the Business Aid success: Everyone who donated; Paul Neuwirth and Cheri Pertesis, BHB&C leadership team; Sheryl Manfreda for the idea and support; Hilary Boothby for researching, putting together and managing the website, grant application, PayPal, Venmo, creating logo, posters, lawn signs and banners; Jim Ramentol and the Rotary Club team for hosting a Virtual Silent Auction; all the local businesses and residents who donated auction items (some, one of a kind); The Connell Company and family; Berkeley Heights local government; Superintendent Dr. Melissa Varley; BH Recreation; BH Ed Foundation; BH Communications Committee; BH FLAG; Bobbie Peer at TAPinto for some great press.... "and everyone I have forgotten to mention. Basically, Thank You, Berkeley Heights!" said Smith.

Editor's note: The following are snippets from the thank-you notes received by the BHB&C from the grant recipients. 

  • Thank you for your generous donation!!  We are blessed to have your support during these difficult times.  Your donation went towards paying some of our utility bills.  We are extremely grateful for your generosity and kindness.
  • I would like to sincerely thank you for the generous grant that will directly help my small business during this extremely difficult time. This grant will be utilized to pay the many bills and costs it takes to maintain the business day to day. I am so grateful to you and your entire committee for working hard to support the businesses in Berkeley Heights and cannot thank the donors enough for their generosity.  As a member of the community for over 30 years, this means so much to me and my family. We hope to fully reopen and get back to serving all of loyal customers soon. 

  • We are so grateful and appreciative for the generous "Emergency Relief Grant of Berkeley Heights." Words can't express how much this help us to pay some of our bills that were due for the month. We were able to pay our rent, workers Compensation, and keep our business going...

  • I am so grateful to you and all who contributed, so I could receive the generous grant. This grant is being applied to the rent of my office space and a portion is being used toward covering the cost of technology. Your grant helps until such time I can open my doors again.

  • Thank you so much for your generous grant. The unprecedented pandemic has had huge impact on us and forced us to shut down our center since March. Through your grant we are able to keep our two-year-old business afloat. The aid is helping our continued operations and that truly makes the difference for us. Your support is invaluable to us and we are extremely grateful!  

  •  I wanted you to know how thankful I am for this grant and how much of an impact it will make on helping to keep my business going. The last two months were supposed to be two of the most lucrative months I’ve had since I opened my doors in 2017.  I’ve been working so hard on trying to still be here once businesses like mine can open up again and it has been extremely difficult.  Every single dollar coming in has helped and receiving this grant when I did put me in a much better position to be here for the long haul. "I wanted to send my thanks to Sheryl, to all who spearheaded this campaign, coordinated the review of the applications, and managed the distributions.  I am so incredibly grateful to the residents of Berkeley Heights for their donations, and to The Connell Company for their generous matching donation.  The financial contributions, as well as the contribution of your time are helping to keep this small business fighting.  Thank you all so very much for your help!!  I’m looking forward to the day we can all be reunited, safely."

  • We greatly appreciate the effort & generosity of Berkeley Heights. Our funds were dispersed directly to our fantastic, hard-working employees, they deserve something for working through these difficult times. Thank you so much for the grant from the "BUSINESS AID: Berkeley Heights" program. Being a resident and a business owner in Berkeley Heights makes me very appreciative of what this town has to offer. With this grant, I can help to make rent in an unprecedented time in which nobody could have predicted what was to come.  I am thankful to the great people of Berkeley Heights and the Berkeley Heights Business and Civic Association.  I hope to be able to contribute in any way I can to help continue making Berkeley Heights a great town to live!

  • Let me begin by saying thank you to Berkeley Heights Business & Civic and Sheryl Manfreda for the emergency relief grant. This money will greatly help my business “stay afloat” as we continued to ride out this pandemic. I am looking forward to opening my doors soon. Paying it forward and keeping me sane, I have been donating my time and materials to make masks and surgical caps through a Facebook group, NJ sews in Unity. Just as you have helped me financially, I will continue to help others stay safe and healthy.

  • I would like to extend an incredibly grateful sentiment to you all. This grant through your generosity will help stay afloat while we are not open and relieve some stress associated with fixed operating costs such as: rent, utilities, and insurance premiums. THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS! 

  • I am so happy to have received your check today as a part of the Business Aid: Berkeley Heights grant program. Since the onset of this pandemic I made a personal commitment to my staff that we needed to stay open to feed the public, including essential workers and Front Line health and first responder personnel.  This mission is critical yet not profitable.  Revenue loss has been well above what I could have ever imagined. My business is down almost 50 percent.  Thanks to the residents of Berkeley Heights, the Business community of Berkeley Heights and to the BHBC for all that you do.

  • We were simply blown away when we received our grant check from the "Berkeley Heights: Business Aid" fund.  The generosity of Berkeley Heights residents and fellow business owners continues to amaze us.  A special thanks to Sheryl Manfreda for initiating this fund and for reaching out to Berkeley Heights Business and Civic to put this together.  We are also extremely grateful to The Connell Company for considering Berkeley Heights their "home" and for showing Berkeley Heights small businesses overwhelming support. While the future remains uncertain because of this health and economic crisis, we are extremely humbled by the grant that we received, and we remain extremely grateful to be a part of such a generous and supportive community.  Thank you, Berkeley Heights!

  • Thank you very much for the grant check you sent us. Words cannot express our deep appreciation to you for coordinating this, and to the BH community, for considering the businesses of our town with this extremely thoughtful act and donation.  We are so grateful that we are a part of Berkeley Heights Community! This will help tremendously as we continue to serve families and hopefully bring a smile to a child's face or, in our own small way, brighten their day. While our sales are down, we are committed to staying open for our customers. This check will help us to offset expenses such as rent, utilities and inventory. Again, we cannot thank all of BH enough for their thoughtfulness and generosity!

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting a smile on my face! I cannot begin you to tell you how blown away I was when I received the grant. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined closing the doors to my business, laying off 20 employees and halting operations. Aside from the economic impact, the emotional toll this quarantine has taken has been substantial. I remain touched and humbled by the generosity and kindness of the Berkeley Heights Community. Thank you!

  • I want to thank you and all the extremely charitable donors that presented me with such a generous assistance grant. Right now we are all currently encountering so many difficulties but it is especially gratifying that the local townspeople have remembered me and rallied to support my business during these turbulent times. When New Jersey lifts its restrictions, I will reopen with new safeguards and will strive to serve the community with the same great service and merchandise as I have always aimed to do in the past.  Your funding will be a huge help in overcoming the enormous financial burdens placed on my business during the forced closure.

  • We have received the Business Aid Grant and are very appreciative for all your efforts. We are using this grant for utilities and reoccurring expenses. Thank you very much BHBC and Sheryl Manfreda for all your efforts and hard work to make this possible. Thanks to all the generous residents of Berkeley Heights.

  • I would first like to start by thanking the Business Aid: BH program and all the residents in Berkeley Heights for the donations made. We received our grant check today and are completely thankful. This pandemic affected our store tremendously and this grant is a big help. We will be using this grant to give our employees an extra $100 this week since their hours have been cut. The remainder of the grant will be used to pay our utility bills from the month of April. Once again thank you to everyone for their help and donations!

  • I have been proud to serve the Berkeley Heights community for close to 40 years now. The years of service go back a long way here. I cannot thank the people of Berkeley Heights enough for their support and generosity during these hard times. Being closed down has been devastating, but we will all overcome this and be stronger! With your generous donations to me and other local businesses, you are helping us with our reopening costs. My heartfelt thanks goes out to you all!

  • Thank you so much for the Business Aid that was given to help my business during a time of crisis.  It is greatly needed and also appreciated that so many Berkeley Heights residents came out to support us.  Also a big THANK YOU to Sheryl Manfreda who cared enough about our small business community to get this organized and also to Dr. Smith for doing his best to keep this going.  We are so thankful and will it certainly be put it to good business use. Hopefully we will all be up and running "business as usual very soon.    

  • I'd like to express my sincere thanks to the generous residents of Berkeley Heights and The Connell Company for supporting our small businesses during this unprecedented and tumultuous time! This has been a very unnerving few weeks, but the love and support that we have received has touched my heart and makes me proud to be a part of this wonderful community! Looking forward to seeing everyone soon as we start to emerge from this quarantine! Thank you, Berkeley Heights!

  • Thank you for the grant that was sent to help us through these tough times. It is nice to know the great residents of Berkeley Heights stick together to help our local businesses.  A lot of the bills that do not stop coming in are for rent for our shop, storage for the trucks and equipment, insurance, cellphones, cleaning supplies to get ready to go back to work. We really appreciate the help. Please let me know what I should do to apply. We are not back to work yet and even when we do it will be on a limited basis. Needless to say these bills will keep coming.