555 Barbershop

Nomination from LaTisha Parsons

Raymond has always been a community driven person. His barbershop was forced to close temporarily when Covid hit. Once they were allowed to open, they weren’t able to resume business as usual, they had to take appointments which means less customers throughout the day. The customer’s safety was always a priority.

Since my son has been a customer’s of Raymond, he has done a number of toy drives and fundraisers for the community. He also has a passion for teaching new barbers and giving them the opportunity to develop skills for a career. His drive and passion that has remained steady throughout this pandemic is why I feel like he’s worthy of being a community champion.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Ever wish the world would just freeze in time so you could catch up? On March, 28, 2020, that’s exactly what happened to us, at 555 Barbershop.
The very first thing we did, when the pandemic began, was not be part of the problem. We respected the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and obeyed Governor Murphy’s executive order by temporarily closing 555 Barbershop, without performing a single haircut during the 3 month lockdown. It hurt us (along with many other businesses), yet, it is my belief that this particular act of selflessness returned to us in the form of blessings. Instead, realizing that everyone would be spending more time on their phones, we implemented an aggressive social media campaign that kept us relevant, throughout the lockdown.

Every day, we posted content to Instagram, Google, Facebook, WhatsApp and TikTok. Personally, while many saw the lockdown as a curse, I saw it as an opportunity to examine myself, my life and my business. For me, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to make changes on a grand scale.
In the 3 months I stayed in quarantine, I did nothing but prepare myself for the reopening of 555 Barbershop. During that time, I ate healthy, learned to exercise at home, read a ton of books, wrote as much as I read, made business plans, made personal discoveries and spent meaningful time with my children. In short, I used the free time—not to relax—but to prepare for success and feed my soul. When the lockdown was lifted and 555 Barbershop was allowed to reopen, we hit the ground running. Because we were able to harness the power of social media, our customers never forgot about us and we also gained a stream of new customers.

To ensure the safety of our clients, we allowed no more than 10 individuals at a time in the barbershop (including ourselves). We wore masks and gloves, religiously. We kept plenty of hand sanitizer for our customers and made sure everyone’s temperature was normal. We kept the entire barbershop clean and sanitized, always. Our customers appreciate that we took these measures, for everyone’s peace of mind.

Our social media marketing strategy continued, even after we reopened. We continued to develop our influence across all our platforms which brought us even more business.

Because I personally had an abundance of time to prepare myself (on all levels), I was able to think of a number of business solutions that usually escaped me before the lockdown. These solutions ranged from adding attractive new services to coming up with better ways to record social media content. Continuously adding new details to our services and business strategy helped 555 Barbershop thrive during the pandemic.

We hope our journey inspires others.

CMC Food

Nomination from Union County Board of County Commissioners, Chairman Alexander Mirabella

When COVID hit not only was the virus a threat food insecurity became a rising issue. Union County’s emergency food distributions were established as a lifeline for our residents during the pandemic.

CMC Food has been very generous during this troubling time and donated Fresh Eggs at the food distributions.

This family run business with deep roots within Union County continues to be resource for those in need. They are most deserving of this nomination for Union County Community Champion!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

It is an honor for CMC Food to be recognized as a Union County Small Business Community Champion. Over the past two years, many things have changed at CMC, but one thing has remained the same – the health and wellbeing of our team members, customers and community is still our top priority.

Several changes were initiated at CMC to guarantee employees felt comfortable coming to work. 

  • A “no visitors” policy went into effect at the start of the pandemic. 
  •  We installed a touchless facial scanner that not only checked temperatures, but it also alerted management when someone wasn’t wearing a mask or if their temperature was abnormal via text message or email.    
  • Tables were removed from our lunchroom, and we added a second lunchroom in another part of the building and picnic tables outside to make sure they could social distance while on lunch.
  • Desks in the offices were moved apart so we could allow for 6 feet and partitions were added. 
  • We set up a mailbox system to drop off paperwork to limit contact among employees. 
  •  Partitions were put up between each packing lane. 
  • We added a Port A John to shipping and receiving for drivers so they didn’t have to come inside.
  • We moved some of our team to another office to spread out and make sure everyone had enough room.

Many of our staff worked endless hours to keep up with the demand for eggs and we made sure to reward them for their hard work by giving them Covid Pay via gift cards on a weekly basis. We wouldn’t have been able to make it through without their hard work and showing our appreciation for them is very important to us.

Outside of the workplace, we worked hard to assist the community in many ways.  

  • We joined forces with UCNJ, Gargiulo Produce and Wakefern and donated eggs for their emergency food donation events at Kean University and Scotch Plains Vo-Tech.   
  • Other donations went out to The Community Food Bank of NJ, City Harvest, Philabundance, IYF and The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless.
  • We donated 500 cartons of milk to the Coalition for a new program to feed the homeless.   
  • Throughout the pandemic we also continued our partnership with Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen.  Since we couldn’t go volunteer in person like we usually do because of restrictions, we sent meals and fulfilled items that they had on their wish list.

Throughout the pandemic and going forward we are focused on taking care of our employees, customers and the community that surrounds us.

Don Ricky Bakery

Nomination from Carlos Herrera

Sandra has not only run a successful business throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but she has also brought together businesses from the Colombian District of Elizabeth, NJ to help them gain access to assistance information for PPP loans and Small Business Relief funds from the CARES and ARP Act.

In addition, she has been one of the leading voices representing the Hispanic business community on the Neighborhood Preservation Program Advisory Board aimed at revitalizing the Historic Midtown/Colombian District. She is an example for other business leaders to follow.

Nomination from Jacqueline McNeil

During the height of the pandemic, Ms. Rojas help business owners who were not able to fill out application to receive financial aid to keep their business a float. Ms. Rojas assisted them in filling out the paper work online. Ms. Rojas is the resource person in the district people trust for guidance.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I am so grateful, being recognized by my community has to be the most rewarding feeling. I come from a very hard working family, DON RICKY BAKERY has been in business since 1976. We were the first Colombian Bakery in the State of New Jersey and in Elizabeth’s Morris Ave.

Colombian District. In March 2020 when we were forced to close because of Covid 19- I saw the opportunity to remodel, I implemented a new business strategy, I removed some products, and boosted our best sellers, let some employees go and I, myself started working more hours.

While the pandemic was devastating families, businesses and lives I used my place as a liaison between the State’s NPP Colombian District program and my community to help fill out applications for grants, keep businesses informed from the State, county and city entities, helped the Latino community fill out vaccine appointments on the internet and Covid testing. I also subscribed to “too good to go” an app where anyone can come and pick up food at a super reduced price. Now more than ever I realized that volunteering my time and helping others survive this pandemic was the best therapy against Covid.

I was never seeking recognition but many times had to step up and be aggressive to get people’s attention on issues like vaccination, Covid testing, plastic ban and city regulations. I am still working to get Morris Ave. Colombian District clean, safe and a happy place to do business. Our merchants are very diverse in age and nationality but we all have the same purpose, to be successful and make Elizabeth a point of interest.
Many thanks to all that support my business and my community I am very proud to be in Elizabeth and continue the legacy of DON RICKY.

Elizabeth Education Association

Nomination from Oscar Cortizo

The Elizabeth Education Association is not a business but a non-profit who was instrumental in feeding the community and first responders this past year. Recently they were awarded $100,000 grant from NJEDA which help feed 10,000 residents here in Elizabeth. Last year they donated food to first responders and local churches, and shelters from their own funds. In addition to feeding the community they also partook in events throughout the city to help our youth and Senior Citizens. They’ve helped keep local eateries open by having meals catered throughout the past year.

In addition the EEA is in the process of applying for another grant to help our community and residents get through the upcoming Holiday season while utilizing their own funds to help throughout the summer months.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

The Elizabeth Education Association is honored to receive the Community Champions Award.

The EEA is a non-profit organization which has been advancing the professional rights of Elizabeth’s educators and fostering cooperation between educators and the community for over 100 years.

Traditionally, our business model has focused primarily on advocacy for our members while providing support for the community. With the arrival of COVID-19 and with so many in need, we pivoted to focus primarily on the needs of the community while continuing to advocate for our members.

In cooperation with the New Jersey Education Association, we were able to reallocate funds from our annual Pride in Education grant to assist and provide relief for the community. We partnered with religious institutions, civic organizations, first responders, charities, community groups, business owners, athletic organizations, youth and senior programs, as well as local and county officials to provide thousands of meals.

To aid in our efforts, and after a lengthy application process, we were awarded $100,000 from the New Jersey Economic Development Agency as part of the Sustain and Serve NJ program. This state program afforded us the opportunity to provide thousands of additional meals from New Jersey-based restaurants that were impacted by COVID-19.

By utilizing resources made available to us by the NJEA and the NJEDA, we were able to provide more than 15,000 meals to the community and to our first responders. The EEA has also donated nonperishable items, personal protective equipment, and support supplies to local churches, charities, medical facilities, youth and senior programs, as well as directly to members of the community.

Currently, we are awaiting a decision on Phase 2 of the Sustain and Serve NJ program which could give us access to a half million dollars which can be used to support local restaurants and businesses