Credit Unions Step Up to Help Fire Victims
Credit unions and their employees in California, Washington and Oregon have been mobilizing in several ways to help victims of the western wildfires.
They’ve already raised tens of thousands of dollars, used vacation days to rescue animals and worked as volunteer firefighters to battle more than 100 large blazes across the drought stricken west.
However, because of the extent of the natural disaster that continues to destroy communities throughout the Western states, the National Credit Union Foundation is working with the Northwest Credit Union Foundation to assist with additional fundraising efforts.
“The fires burning in Oregon and Washington have affected thousands of lives,” Northwest Credit Union Foundation Executive Director Denise Gabel said. “Countless families have lost their homes. Whether the victims are credit union members or not, we feel it’s our duty to help these families rebuild. By pulling together we can truly make a difference for those hurting in our community.”
About two weeks ago, the $197 million Mendo Lake Credit Union in Ukiah, Calif. teamed up with other community organizations to raise $50,000 for fire victims.
One of those victims was Mendo Lake CU member Walter Dries, whose home was destroyed.
After Dries shared photos of the charred remains of his home and other possessions on Mendo Lake CU’s Facebook page last week, dozens of members expressed their sympathies and asked what they could do to help their fellow member.
The fire victim fund raised $15,000 in just one week, and with Mendo Lake CU’s match of $5,000, the total raised so far is just more than $20,000, according to the credit union’s Facebook page.
“Our community has really pulled together to help each other and we are also grateful for the outside help we are receiving,” Mendo Lake CU Director of Community Outreach Jamey Gill told the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues.
Gill also reported her colleague, Jill Scott, a branch support manager, took vacation days to help rescue large animals. Mendo Lake CU also donated food and water to the volunteers at the animal shelter.
The California league also reported that Sara Nielsen, a senior member service representative for the $1.1 billion Coast Central Credit Union in Eureka, Calif., was at the fire’s frontline in southern Humboldt County.
She comes from a family of firefighters. As a five-year volunteer veteran firefighter, she is a lieutenant and certified engineer with the Loleta Volunteer Fire Department in Loleta, Calif., according to the California league.
In addition, Coast Central CU announced that it is matching all donations up to a total of $2,500 to help with local forest fire relief efforts in Humboldt, Del Norte and Trinity counties. The credit union also purchased and delivered goods to local volunteer groups that aided fire victims.
“Coast Central feels strongly that community participation in this relief effort is critical, particularly since this year’s fire season is far from over,” Dean Hart, vice president of marketing and communications for Coast Central CU, said.
The Northwest Credit Union Foundation said it is teaming up with the National Credit Union Foundation and local Red Cross organizations to raise relief funds to support victims of the fire in Washington and Oregon. It has opened an emergency fund and is calling for donations to assist victims of the Chelan wildfire burning in central Washington, and the Canyon Creek complex fires that have destroyed more than 48,000 acres and dozens of buildings near John Day, Ore.
The $121 million Old West Federal Credit Union in John Day has set up a small loan fund for fire victims in the community to cover temporary living needs, insurance deductibles and other expenses.
Ken Olson, president/CEO of the Old West FCU, said the loans will feature delayed payments, a subsidized interest and other relaxed underwriting requirements. For members, the credit union is also offering the option to skip loan payments and other accommodations.
The Oregon Canyon Creek complex fires have reportedly destroyed at least 36 homes and damaged 50 other structures including barns and shops, according to local media reports.
What’s more, 84 homes, businesses and other buildings have been destroyed in Washington’s Chelan Complex fires, according to the InciWeb Incident Information System, a governmental interagency information management website that regularly posts updates about the forest fires throughout the western states.
“We encourage the credit union community to donate, to help people affected by these devastating wildfires,” Christopher Morris, director of communications at the National Credit Union Foundation, said. “There is a critical need for funds in the area and contributing to help our brothers and sisters through this difficult time is a great example of the credit union movement’s ‘people helping people’ philosophy.”
Donors will have the option of directing their donation to those specific areas if they choose. In addition, there is a general fund established to support all wildfire victims in Oregon and Washington.
A web page to accept donations has been established on the Northwest Credit Union Foundation’s website.