After confirming that all 16 of its project staff members working on-site in Haiti were safe and uninjured after the earthquake rocked the island Jan. 12, the World Council of Credit Unions quickly shifted gears to lead the credit union industry's Haiti relief fundraising efforts, joining forces with the National Credit Union Foundation's CUAid fundraising framework to raise $261,500 as of mid-day Jan. 20.
World Council of Credit Unions Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Brian Branch and Dave Richardson, the WOCCU senior manager who oversees the Haiti program, arrived in Haiti Jan. 19 to deliver much needed supplies.
WOCCU's Haiti-stationed staff, lead by program chief Greta Greathouse, are searching for a new office location after the earthquake caused severe damage to the team's headquarters. In particular, the accounting office took the hardest hit, and Greathouse told WOCCU they would attempt to salvage as much as possible.
Greathouse also reported that all financial institutions are closed, and staff members have no access to cash. Many staff residences were also destroyed.
"Our first thought in disaster situations is to stabilize our staff and provide them with the basics of food, water, clothing and a place to sleep," Richardson said. "Our second step is to help the public with general relief, and we have chosen to work with Food for the Poor based on the quick and efficient response they have demonstrated in disaster situations.
Donated funds will first purchase food, water and necessities then focus on rebuilding credit unions.
"Once WOCCU is able to assess all credit union damage, we will begin a formal rebuilding program to get credit unions back on their feet and assist them in helping as many members as possible," Richardson said.
Those efforts will include providing assistance to rebuild credit unions as necessary, training credit union staff to implement emergency loan programs and helping them implement crisis management strategies, he said.
The Haitian disaster hit home for some U.S. credit unions, as well.
Citing the many Haitian-American communities located in Long Island, the $3.6 billion Bethpage FCU collected high-demand items such as water, nonperishable food, diapers, wipes, hygiene products, towels, wash cloths and blankets at all 21 of its branches during the week following the quake.
Bethpage coordinated with American Airlines, New York State Sen. Brian Foley (D-Blue Point) and Central Islip, N.Y.-headquartered Haitian American United for Change to deliver the donated items to Haiti. Bethpage also accepted monetary donations for the Red Cross, making an immediate $10,000 donation and matching donations from both members and nonmembers up to $5,000.
"There is an immediate need to help the tens of thousands of families devastated in Haiti and while there are many Haitian communities on Long Island, not many have the capacity to transport donations," said Linda Armyn, senior vice president of corporate development and government affairs. "We have identified a few organizations on Long Island and together are coordinating the immediate collection and transportation of much-needed supplies and money."
Recalling the "fear and tragedy we experienced" when the Loma Prieta earthquake devastated the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, the $600 million Bay Federal Credit Union established its own fund to provide emergency relief to earthquake survivors through the American Red Cross, said President/CEO Carrie Birkhofer.
The Pennsylvania Credit Union Foundation is assisting in launching CUAid, and the Texas Credit Union Foundation's grants committee has already approved a $5,000 grant to the organization.
"This is not an isolated event that will easily be resolved. Rather, this is an international call for action that will take the dedication and support of every one of us," said Angela McCathran, chairman of the TCUF board and president/CEO of the $420 million People's Trust Federal Credit Union.