Missouri’s Secretary of State has begun a new initiative to help businesses in the Ferguson area get back on their feet.

Jason Kander, a Democrat, is donating $25,000 from his campaign fund to kick off #FergusonRebuild. He said the campaign will also seek donations through the crowdfunding site, GoFundMe.com.

"One of the most common questions that I’ve received both inside the state and around the country is, 'What can I do to help?'" Kander said. "So part of this is answering that question."

All of the money will go into the Reinvest North County Fund, which was created in August by the Regional Business Council and is housed at North County Incorporated. So far, 34 businesses in Ferguson, Jennings and Dellwood have received grants of up to $5,000.

Kathy Osborn, Executive Director of the Regional Business Council, said so far they’ve raised $400,000 for the fund. Half of that is a donation from Monsanto that will go to area school districts. She said all of the money from #FergusonRebuild will go to small businesses. and there are no limits on the grant amounts at this time.

"We think grants from the private sector, not governmental money, directly to businesses is a good way to help them," she said. "What have we done? We’ve helped them with things like boarded-up windows, or getting the glass back in, getting their inventory in, often paying utilities."

There are a lot of businesses to help.

Rebecca Zoll, the president and CEO of North County Inc., said they estimate about 150 businesses were damaged both economically and physically by the first round of violence in August. In November, she said about 73 businesses were affected with 15 of those completely destroyed.

Still, she said, most of the businesses they’ve talked to are committed to staying.

"When we visited with the small businesses that have been traumatically impacted, they say, 'We love this community. Our customers are in this community and we’re not going anywhere,'" Zoll said.

The challenge will be helping make that a reality. Zoll said she’s talked to the owners of 13 businesses affected by the latest unrest and estimates their damage alone tops $1 million.

As for #FergusonRebuild, another $30,000 came rolling in during Thursday’s press conference. World Wide Technology, a North County-based corporation, matched Kander’s $25,000 donation. Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis president Mike McMillan offered another $5,000.

Reprinted with permission from news.stlpublicradio.org.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman.

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