Passing checks over the barricade
NEW YORK - Mary Spink serves as Treasurer of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and on the board of directors of the Lower East Side Federal Credit Union. "That's what I do for free," she said, chuckling. But in her other life she manages a public housing association also on the Lower East Side. Her offices and the Lower East Side FCU's almost share space on East Third Street, about one half a mile from the site of the former World Trade Center Towers. "From the very first moment that I heard what had happened I thought `we're at war,' " Spink said. "I never thought for an instant that it was just an accident." Mary had headed into work, she said, "because I supervise a lot of people and we have a lot of people in area housing who depend on us." By the time she had arrived, the second plane hit the second tower. In many ways both the housing association and the credit union benefited from fortunate prior planning, Spink said. In advance of possible problems with the Millennium, Spink had purchased lots of equipment that her staff might need. Batteries, flashlights, small generators, alls sorts of equipment, she said. "Of course, we hadn't needed any of it then so I still had it. We called all of the external employees and internal employees in and I was able to throw open the closet door and say `here you go, take what you need,' " she said. The other way the association benefited was from having a walkie-talkie system that stayed up and running. "We lost communication for about 10 minutes after the second tower came down," Spink said, "but they got us back up again and we stayed up." The ability to communicate with her external staff in the buildings she managed was crucial to reassuring residents and addressing problems. The credit union also benefited from having had a cash delivery scheduled for September 11. The delivery truck had left on its rounds before the incident and was committed to finishing them, arriving at the credit union after almost all the employees had gone home and the vault had been shut. The cash delivery had allowed the credit union to keep the ATM on its premises supplied with cash and running, even when its other ATMs in the area had been knocked off line. Spink was also proud of the way she had been able to get her staff paid. Since her offices were below the barricade the police established at 14th street, Spink had the payroll management firm deliver the paychecks to an employee who lived on 19th street. The employee then carried the checks down to the barricade where the police allowed her to pass them across to another employee on the other side. "I am very proud to have been part of a people who did what needed to be done to keep things running," Spink said.