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Bridgeport businesses and nonprofits cash in on federal coronavirus relief funds

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Small businesses and nonprofits in Bridgeport are getting a boost from $25 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.

One of the recipients is nOURish Bridgeport, an indoor hydroponic farm. They will use the money to renovate an old warehouse in Stratford to grow produce like squash, strawberries, tomatoes and lettuce.

Reverend Sara Smith of United Congregational Church, the founder of nOURish Bridgeport and a partner of the farm, told the CT Post their goal is to get healthy food to the poor in Bridgeport.

“We try to give healthy food to our hungry neighbors, but fresh produce, whether summer or winter, is almost impossible to find at the food bank,” Smith said.

The six-acre farm will produce 200 pounds of pesticide-free produce every week by the end of the year. The produce will be sold to food pantries, food markets and to commercial customers.

A number of recipients are using the money for workforce development and programs helping incarcerated people returning to society. They’ll receive more than $10 million collectively over three years.

Scott Wilderman is the head of a workforce development agency — Career Resources. He told the Connecticut Post that the agency will use the money to establish a re-entry center. It will provide services to people released from prison. Centers like this already exist in New Haven and Hartford.

The money will also help develop a phone app that ex-offenders can use to locate services.

Career Resources is a major partner of the Mayor’s Initiative for Re-Entry Affairs (MIRA). Joe Ganim was Bridgeport’s mayor in the 1990s until he was convicted of federal corruption charges and spent seven years in jail. After he was released, he launched a comeback campaign to expand Bridgeport’s efforts to give other felons a second chance. In 2016, he launched MIRA but struggled with turnover in management, staff shortages and a lack of funding.

“MIRA can’t do it all,” Wilderman said.

The University of Bridgeport is getting $1.5 million to help entrepreneurs launch businesses, including former inmates.

Some of the other small business recipients include the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Bridgeport Hospital, the Workplace, the Center for Children’s Advocacy, the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport, the Entrepreneurship Foundation and the Burroughs Community Center.

Bridgeport still has a large portion of its $110 million federal allocation left to spend. Other than distributing the $25 million for non-profits and small businesses, Mayor Joe Ganim previously announced that $700,000 would go to youth hiring and youth programs over four years, $500,000 to relocation assistance for residents facing eviction, $8 million for broadband infrastructure and $8 million to help finance $395 million worth of upgrades to the aged wastewater system the council approved in April.