By Sam Bojarski
More than 40 years ago, in Haiti, Margarette Medina learned to use herbs to make home remedies. Like so many other vendors in the Flatbush Caton Market, she has turned the knowledge she gained in her homeland into a business ‒ Medina’s Body Care.
But after the coronavirus pandemic forced the market to close, Medina had a hard time selling her skin care products, which have a relatively short shelf life.
“Some of them I will have to throw away, that’s a loss there. And then I don’t get to sell my stuff either, because it’s closed,” said Medina who came to the United States in 1982 and has been selling in the Flatbush Caton market for more than a decade.
The numerous micro-entrepreneurs like Medina who sell goods at the Flatbush Caton Market have been bringing the sights, smells, tastes and wears of the Caribbean to central Brooklyn since 2000. But many of the businesses in the market operate informally, making them ineligible to receive money from government initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Since business shut down more than three months ago, the market’s managers have collaborated with other partners to start the Flatbush Caton Market Micro Entrepreneur Relief Fund.
For standup comedian Tanael Joachim, the ambassador for the relief fund project, Flatbush Caton Market is a special place.
“I have an aunt who was a micro-entrepreneur in Haiti. She basically does what people at the Flatbush Caton Market do, and she raised three kids on that,” said Joachim, who moved to the U.S. about 12 years ago.
In 2017, Joachim was performing at the Eastville Comedy Club, when he met Androniki Lagos, a consultant at Urbane Development, which manages the Flatbush Caton Market and provides resources to its vendors.
Originally, the two discussed having Joachim plan shows and create a community space for the arts in the summer of 2021, when the new Flatbush Caton Market building is scheduled to open. Coronavirus changed those plans.
“Then Nikki told me about this relief fund and asked me if that was something that I was also interested in, so I immediately thought, ‘yeah, why not.’ Because we’re all kind of struggling right now, and unfortunately, raising money is how we’re going to have to do it, especially with these small businesses,” Joachim said.
As the main ambassador for the effort, Joachim has been raising awareness for the fund and encouraging others to donate.
Urbane Development has also used its own partners and promotional channels to bring attention to the fundraising effort.
According to Lisa Thompson, who serves as market director of Flatbush Caton Market for Urbane Development, the initiative stems from the fact that most of the micro entrepreneurs ‒ mostly immigrant Caribbean women, as well as some men ‒ lack the banking relationships and organizational capacity needed to access government responses to the COVID-19 economic crisis, including the PPP and EIDL programs.
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