CUs Pull Together to Help Oklahoma Tornado Victims

Coast-to-coast contributions address immediate and long-term needs.

July 10, 2013

Vault in Moore, Okla., sheltered 22 people during an EF5 tornado on May 20, 2013.

When tragedy strikes, credit unions respond.

Matthew Stratton has witnessed the credit union movement’s generosity after four challenging events in his two decades at $2.9 billion asset Tinker Federal Credit Union in Oklahoma City, where he’s senior vice president of marketing.

Most recently, an EF5 tornado ripped through the state on May 20, killing 24 people and wiping out an estimated 4,000 homes and businesses. That includes Tinker Federal’s branch in Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb that was sliced in half by the mile-wide twister. The credit union’s vault became a makeshift shelter that saved the lives of the 14 employees and eight members huddled inside, while the rest of the building turned to rubble.

The iconic image graced national TV news coverage and went viral, reaching more than 150,000 people via social media in the days after the storm.

“It’s a good story out of tragedy— a little bit of hope,” Stratton says.

Their resilient nature bolstered by an outpouring of support nationally, Oklahomans quickly began the process of recovering and rebuilding. Fortunately, no other credit unions suffered significant damage, but about 30 credit union employees’ homes in Moore and Shawnee were lost or heavily damaged.

Within days, the Texas Credit Union League’s Houston chapter raised $5,000 and the Ohio Credit Union Foundation pledged that amount. Meanwhile, $839 million asset Meritrust Credit Union in Wichita, Kan., cut a check for $10,000, as did $881 million asset WEOKIE Credit Union of Oklahoma City, which has a branch in Moore that escaped damage. Relief efforts are ongoing at credit unions from New York to Alabama, and Florida to California.

As of June 5, credit unions had contributed more than $66,000 to relief efforts.

Stratton recalls similar responses in 1999 and 2003, when brutal tornados also ravaged Moore. And in 1995, Tinker Federal helped Federal Employees Credit Union—which changed its name to Allegiance Federal Credit Union in 2003—overcome the deaths of 18 employees in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

“Credit unions extend from coast to coast, border to border, but it never ceases to amaze me what a close-knit community it really is,” Stratton says.

Even before it began coordinating those grassroots donations, the Oklahoma Credit Union Foundation (OCUF) leaped into action with emergency grants to those hardest hit. The proactive response fulfills the vision of past OCUF officials who created a tornado disaster response fund and authorized Gary Jones, president/CEO of the Credit Union Association of Oklahoma (CUAOK), to distribute the funds without board approval.

“The system’s working well for us,” says Jones, who notes OCUF is reviewing applications for more substantial aid. “It’s nice to know we can concentrate on the immediate challenge of the disaster and not have to work through bureaucratic infrastructure in response to the disaster.”

For its part, Tinker Federal quickly initiated low-interest tornado disaster relief loans and storm shelter loans. When notified on social media that Moore Public School District employees’ paychecks might not be available on time, Tinker Federal advanced money to members with direct deposit. And the credit union conducted a school supplies drive for the two elementary schools directly affected by the tornado.

Locally, Tinker Federal temporarily reassigned its employees to other offices. Just days after the tornado, the credit union pledged to rebuild the Moore branch. Within a week, construction workers cleared the property—including the vault—to begin site preparation.

“We’ve bounced back before,” Stratton says. “We’re going to bounce back again.”

To contribute to the Tornado Disaster Relief Fund, make checks payable to the Oklahoma Credit Union Foundation, mark them designated for the Tornado Disaster Relief Fund and send them to:

Credit Union Association of Oklahoma
631 E. Hill Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73105

For more information, contact Carrie Buchholz at 405-702-8622, ext. 215, or at