U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown visited Athens County on Thursday, with a stop at Federal Hocking Secondary School and Brenen’s Cafe on Court Street in Athens to discuss programs that are benefiting the area.

Sherrod Brown stopped first at Federal Hocking School District on Thursday morning to see a new program, Farm to Schools.

Federal Hocking Local School District was recently awarded an implementation grant to invest in the district’s Farm to School program, a program that aims to enrich students’ lives through education and bringing locally grown, farm-fresh food into schools.

Brown lauded the program.

“It will teach local kids in the school system more about foods and brings more money into the community,” Brown said.

Federal Hocking was awarded about $100,000 to develop, implement, and share a system for identifying and ordering local food products, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.

Federal Hocking is working on the project in collaboration with Rural Action, an organization with a mission to build a more just economy by developing southeastern Ohio’s assets in environmentally, socially and economically sustainable ways, according to Rural Action’s website.

Brown also stopped at Brenen’s Cafe in Athens to meet with the owners and discuss the success of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.

A PPP loan was a program that helped businesses keep their workforce employed during the COVID-19 crisis by offering money in order to keep them on board. The program ended at the end of March.

Brown said the program, implemented at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, allowed countless small businesses like Brenen’s to stay afloat.

“We understand that small businesses are the backbone of the economy. We also understand that the service industry is getting to be a larger and larger portion of the economy. And we want to make sure that there’s a safety net and a foundation under the service industries.”

Dani Underhill, president of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, said the PPP loans were crucial in preserving Athens’ service-industry-reliant uptown economy.

“It meant everything,” Underhil said. “I mean truly — that federal funding helped give a life preserver to our businesses who were floundering in the toughest parts (of the pandemic),” Underhill said.

“It was literally the deciding factor between some businesses staying afloat and some businesses having to close.”

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