Emporia Main Street earns national revitalization award

Emporia Main Street wins award
Emporia Main Street wins award(Emporia Main Street)
Published: Apr. 12, 2021 at 6:14 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Emporia Main Street is one of six winners of the national Main Street Forward Awards. The awards recognize communities that “have shown exemplary recovery and resilience efforts” in the midst of the crises of the past pandemic year: 2020. Winners are selected by a national jury of economic development experts.

According to a news release, Emporia Main Street “is being honored for its multipronged pandemic response, which included significant relief funding, small business support, and even a pen pal program for residents of local senior living facilities.”

“EMS stepped up with an entrepreneurial spirit to meet the challenges of the pandemic on multiple fronts,” said Main Street America’s President and CEO Patrice Frey. “It comes as no surprise that this veteran Main Street group has served as an example for many other communities in Kansas.”

The national organization notes that Emporia is known for historic architecture, antique stores, local boutiques, coffee shops, diverse restaurants, and a restored Spanish Colonial Revival-style theater, The Emporia Granada Theater.

The 30-year-old nonprofit had to face serious challenges in a district that depends on people being present in its shops and eateries.

“We are often asked to work magic, find a way to put a round peg in a square hole, or complete a $100 project on a buck,” said EMS Executive Director Casey Woods. “When COVID-19 hit, we relied on our ability to roll with the punches as we adapted existing programs and created new initiatives to support local businesses and strengthen community spirit.”

A partnership with Newman Regional Health, the local hospital, was one of its first initiatives. They worked together to rally community volunteers to make cloth masks for patients and healthcare workers. To now, more than 12,000 masks have been collected.

EMS used monetary donations to create the Greater Emporia Area Disaster Relief Fund alongside partners United Way of the Flint Hills, the Emporia Community Foundation, and local media outlet KVOE. Nearly $200,000 has been given to support 100 businesses and nonprofits impacted by the pandemic.

A focus on its existing gift certificate program, generated $70,000 in gift certificates during 2020 to help bolster the local economy during the pandemic. Many of those supported an initiative to benefit staffers at Newman Regional Health. Under that program, community members could purchase gift certificates for healthcare workers or buy items at local businesses to create gift baskets for hospital departments.

Part of their efforts also focused on supporting isolated seniors in the community. EMS shared the names and interests of residents in senior facilities, and asked Emporia residents to choose a penpal. They were also encouraged to send packages to their new friends with items purchased from local businesses. That initiative among others caught the attention of national media including the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

“EMS addressed the health, economic, and even social needs of its community throughout the pandemic,” said Scott Sewell, Director of Kansas Main Street. “Their extensive relief efforts brought the community together and safeguarded Emporia’s economic vitality at the same time.”

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