As West Coast burns, CUs continue service

As West Coast burns, CUs continue service

Support pours in as branches evacuate, employees lose homes.

September 11, 2020

As wildfires burn through forests and foothills on the West Coast, credit unions continue to serve their members, even as they evacuate branches and employees lose their homes.

In Oregon, six employees at Medford-based Rogue Credit Union lost homes to the fires. The credit union evacuated three branches, but those locations have since reopened.

“The struggles our staff are going through hit you pretty hard,” says CEO Gene Pelham. “Our staff are so committed to our members. They evacuate, they take care of their families, and they come back in to serve our members. It’s incredibly heartwarming to see the dedication and care our staff is still able to demonstrate.”

Pelham is “incredibly humbled” by the outpouring of support from the credit union community. “I can’t say enough about what the power of people helping people really means in times like this.”

Rogue has established the Southern Oregon Fire Relief fund to support communities affected by the wildfires. In less than 72 hours, the fund received more than $130,000 in donations.

The credit union will match an additional $50,000 in donations.

The Northwest Credit Union Foundation (NWCUF) has activated its disaster relief program to assist credit unions and their employees impacted by the wildfires.

“We have been in close contact with credit union leaders across the region, and have learned how dire the situation is,” says Sharee Adkins, NWCUF executive director. “Hundreds of credit union employees have been evacuated, some have lost their homes, and many credit union branches need supplies, employee support, or other services.”

Old West Credit Union in John Day, Ore., isn’t located near the fires, but it's is serving as a drop-off point for supplies to help credit unions affected in other parts of the state.

“We went through a similar fire three years ago,” says President/CEO Ken Olson. “Our credit union brothers and sisters stepped up for us then, and we’re just returning the favor.”

In California, Sierra Central Credit Union in Yuba City temporarily evacuated two of its branches due to fires and reduced hours at two others.

“We are experiencing the worst air quality I have ever seen in Northern California,” says CEO John Cassidy. “All of our 20 branches are covered in ash. Because of power outages, three branches are running on generators. Our team has done a great job. Most members don’t realize what we’ve had to do to keep things running.”

He says 11 Sierra Central employees have had to evacuate their homes. Four have since returned.

Sierra Central is offering emergency loans up to $5,000 and consumer loan extensions up to two months for affected members.

The Redwood Credit Union Community Fund, supported by the Santa Rosa-based credit union, continues to accept donations for its 2020 Fire Relief Fund to assist fire survivors and aid relief efforts.

It will distribute 100% of the tax-deductible donations directly to fire survivors through nonprofit organizations.

“Every day we passionately serve our members, employees, and communities, and in times of crisis that means stepping up even more,” says Redwood CEO Brett Martinez. “Year after year, we’re faced with a new wildfire season and it’s taking a toll on our communities’ emotional and financial wellness. Establishing an immediate relief fund for survivors who lost their homes due to the recent fires simply feels like the right thing to do.”

CUAid disaster relief

In addition to the fund, Redwood offers a variety of financial assistance and other resources to affected members, including special loan programs, insurance information, details about nonprofit services, and information about related fraud.

Other California credit unions are stepping up fundraising efforts to assist their communities, according to the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues. They include:

  • Noble Credit Union in Fresno is raising money for an organization that will provide aid to those in need. This includes a $5,000 match from the credit union.
  • San Mateo Credit Union in Redwood donated $10,000 to two nonprofits helping fire survivors.
  • The Fire Family Foundation, the charitable arm of Firefighters First Credit Union in Los Angeles, is providing disaster relief kits to those on the front lines of the wildfires.
  • Travis Credit Union in Vacaville continues to accept donations to its foundation to bring immediate financial assistance to victims, firefighters, and communities. The credit union will distribute 100% of all donations to supporting recovery efforts.

CUNA News will continue to monitor and update this story.

▶ NCUA monitoring wildfires in Western states