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Vendor market raises funds for Ellicott City flood victims

Maureen Sweeney Smith, executive director of the Ellicott City Partnership, browsed the wares of more than 60 vendors Sunday at the Carroll County Agriculture Center.

"Fundraisers like this make us feel great," she said.

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The Holiday Market and Arts Festival fundraiser was one of the more than 600 events that have been held in the last four months to help Ellicott City flood victims.

"We've received tremendous support from Carroll County," Sweeney Smith said. "It shows the region is supporting us."

John Santoro discovered a new respect for the power of water when he was swept quickly through a pipe during a flash flood.

According to organizer Laura Hewitt, a consultant for the LuLaRoe clothing line, each vendor donated an item to a gift basket that was raffled off Sunday. Proceeds from the raffle tickets and additional donations will be given to the Ellicott City Partnership to help people affected by the flood.

"Each of the craft vendors and small-business owners will also donate what they can to the cause from their net sales," Hewitt said.

"When I got into selling clothes as a small-business owner with LuLaRoe, they encouraged us to pay it forward, bless lives and to be giving. The flood had been on my mind and I wanted to help. This seemed like the time to do it."

The Ellicott City Partnership was formed July 30, the night of the flood.

"We knew it was bad and we set up a website called HelpEllicottCity.com," Sweeney Smith said. "When I woke up the next morning, we had raised $10,000. To date, we've raised $1.5 million. We want to help Main Street get back on its feet."

The week after the flood, Sweeney Smith said, the organization gave out $100 gift cards to those in need. Then they formed a committee with Howard County called EC Strong to decide how people could apply for additional funds.

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Nalia Arceneaux, 5, left, Tessa Elder, 4, and brother Tanner Elder, 1, all of Westminster, inspect the hand-carved animal figures at Rich Tollison's booth during a fundraiser to support Ellicott City's Main Street at the Carroll County Agriculture Center on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2016.
Nalia Arceneaux, 5, left, Tessa Elder, 4, and brother Tanner Elder, 1, all of Westminster, inspect the hand-carved animal figures at Rich Tollison's booth during a fundraiser to support Ellicott City's Main Street at the Carroll County Agriculture Center on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2016.(Alan White / Carroll County Times)

"We had to define the area we're helping," Sweeney Smith said. "The funds go toward the historic district from the river to west end."

Four weeks after the flood, the Ellicott City Partnership presented some residents and Main Street businesses with $500 grants. Sweeney Smith said they gave out $1,500 resident grants and $15,000 property and business owner grants in the third round.

"Right now, our whole goal is to get cash registers ringing and people living downtown again. We want to get everyone back to their homes and livelihoods," she said.

Sweeney Smith said the community actively participated in Small Business Saturday and "people did three times the business they usually do on their best day. The Dec. 2 Midnight Madness event was just as crowded."

She said the partnership was planning a "Shop Local, Shop Late" event Dec. 15. Businesses will be open until 9 p.m.

Sweeney Smith said Federal Emergency Management Agency officials told the organization not to expect more than 20 to 25 percent of the Ellicott City residents and businesses to return after the flood.

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"Right now we have 70 to 80 percent that have returned. Some aren't in the original buildings, but they're there," Sweeney Smith said.

"As awful as the flood was, our Main Street is having massive renaissance. Ellicott City is going to come back so much better."

Vendor Ed Gunther, of Sykesville, said he grew up in Ellicott City. He owns Bay Bred, a Maryland-themed apparel company that participated in the fundraiser Sunday.

"It's definitely devastating. It's scary to think that could happen in this day and age," Gunther said.

Gunther said the cause brought a lot of people out, and "it gives someone a chance to pick out a Christmas gift while supporting a worthy cause."

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