Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the east coast on October 29 with her heavy rains and strong winds, many of those hardest hit by the pre-Halloween superstorm are still feeling its effects. Although some of the more immediate effects like power outages, gas rationing and school closings are a thing of the recent past, the damages and loss caused by Sandy’s flood waters and 80 mph+ winds are a very real part of the present and future.
Fueled by the “People Helping People” philosophy and cooperative nature of their overall movement, credit unions reacted swiftly and have committed to helping those devastated by the recent storms, on a national and state level. Allison D. Barna, Director of New York Credit Union Foundation/Community Development said that their goal is to help as many credit unions, their employees, volunteers and members as possible. “This disaster has had such an incredible impact which I think, unfortunately, hasn’t even been fully realized -- Seeing how the credit union community pulls together, regardless of where they are located or if they have been impacted, is absolutely incredible to me; It shows the true cooperative spirit and proves the credit union philosophy.”
Although Sandy directly impacted many Northeast-based credit unions, they remained committed to maintaining account access for members if possible. And, once up and running, their first order of business was the safety and well being of their members. Krista Barry, Marketing Coordinator for Freedom Credit Union (Philadelphia, PA) said it was clear from the moment the images of destruction began being broadcast on the news that something needed to be done. “Our Call Center, Operations Center, and all of our branch locations were closed for a couple days during the storm for the safety of our Members and employees, but the discussion about what to do next starting happening as soon as we got back to the office.”
Marissa Anema, Marketing & Communications Coordinator for the New Jersey Credit Union League explained how NJCUL, from the start of the storm, has been serving as a repository for news and updates to ensure their credit unions understand the latest and what services are available. The League continues to provide important updates and cancellations, a list of credit unions and their status, and well as assistance that is available to credit unions and members. Paul Gentile, NJCUL’s President/CEO encourages credit unions to communicate with the league and reach out for assistance if needed.
The National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) has activated the online disaster relief system CUAid.coop to raise money for credit union people along the East Coast affected by Hurricane Sandy. Credit union supporters in every state can now make donations at www.cuaid.coop.
As donations are posted through CUAid.coop, NCUF will coordinate with the credit union leagues in the disaster area to distribute money efficiently to affected credit union employees and members. 100% of the donations through CUAid goes to credit union disaster relief. In the event that all donations are not used for Hurricane Sandy relief, NCUF will transfer any and all unused funds to its "General Disaster Relief fund" for future disaster relief efforts. The NCUF has also activated the online disaster relief system CUAid.coop to raise money for credit union people along the East Coast affected by Hurricane Sandy.
The NYCUF began working in conjunction with the NCUF’s CUAid program to help raise and disperse funds regionally and in New York, and also enacted their Disaster Relief fundraising. For both programs, the grant applications are available. “We have also been working to contact our effected credit unions to help assess their needs and try to position them to best serve their members, but to be there for their employees as well,” Barna explains.
In addition to emergency relief loans, many credit unions and related organizations are working to set up collection drives where people can make donations to help individuals and communities suffering in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and Nor’easter Athena.
The NCUA has a clothing drive underway to aid with disaster recovery efforts in the state of New Jersey. The agency is currently collecting clothing from its employees that will be boxed and sorted by size, which will be delivered to the NJCUL office in Hightstown this week. These donations will be available for credit union members and employees affected by Hurricane Sandy.
The Polish & Slavic Federal Credit Union has also started collecting necessary non-perishable items, such as batteries, blankets, pillows, warm clothing, and outerwear, as well as personal hygiene products, such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, and other personal hygiene items for the hurricane victims in its community.
The NYCUF is working in conjunction with the Credit Union Association of New York to continue to stay in touch with New York credit unions and let them know the resources that they have available. “At this point, it seems that people are still trying to grasp the magnitude of their losses – between Sandy and now the nor’easter that has hit, I can only imagine how overwhelmed they are,” said Barna.
As of November 8, CUAid had raised over $100,000. And, Barna reported that, to the New York fund, the Credit Union Association of New York’s Affiliate companies, CUC Mortgage Corporation, Covera and Universal Sharing Network (UsNet), had pledged a total of $25,000 to aid statewide Disaster Relief to benefit Hurricane Sandy victims. Alloya Corporate FCU is also contributing $5,000 to the Fund, and CUNA Mutual Group is contributing $10,000.
Thanks to these donations and those received from 55 other donors—including credit unions, individuals and system providers—nearly $60,000 has been raised for the statewide Disaster Relief Fund.
“Donations are coming in from all over the country and the out-pouring of support and offers to help have been incredible,” said a very thankful Barna. “With other giving opportunities to help those impacted, it is incredible to see the generosity and kindness people have for their credit union peers and family.”
In response to the immediate financial needs of storm-stricken members, a growing number of credit unions have begun offering some form of emergency loan.
“Hurricane Sandy was a forceful storm that requires a forceful response,” explained Mark Welshoff, President & CEO of Palisades FCU. “As a non-profit community Credit Union, it is our responsibility to do all that we can to support our general community and membership in times of crisis.”
The local credit union is providing personal loans at 50% off their standard rates for terms up to 24 months for those impacted by the storm. The loans that the credit union will process within 24 hours can be used for anything from replacing spoiled food to purchasing a generator to paying for a tree service for removing a fallen tree to making up for lost pay during the storm.
Likewise, Freedom is offering what they are calling an Emergency Relief Loan and over 600 members have applied in less than one week. This loan product offers members a very low interest rate with flexible underwriting – so that those members who may not have the best credit score will still benefit from this effort. The loan amount can be for up to $1,500 and the term can be as long as 18 months. Freedom members are thrilled that the credit union is there to help.
“The philosophy of ‘People Helping People’ is why we do what we do here at Freedom,” explained Barry. “We knew our Members needed our help to recover from this monstrous storm – they are our priority and we are here for them during this difficult time.”
In addition, Healthcare Employees FCU (Princeton, NJ) is offering an Emergency Loan that has no payments due for the first 90 days where members can obtain up to $3,000 at 3% for 30 months. These loans will be made available through December 15, 2012.
ABCO Federal Credit Union (Willingboro, NJ) is also offering a low-interest, Disaster Relief Loan to its membership. For homeowners, up to $25,000 is available at 2.99% APR for up to 48 months. For renters, up to $5,000 is available at 2.99% APR for up to 48 months. Members can use this loan for flood damage, tree removal, vehicle damage, fence repair, shrub replacement, generators, and insurance deductibles.
Interested in donating or volunteering? Check with your credit union or a credit union in your community to find out about local efforts. Or visit any of the following websites for more information or to donate: www.cuaid.coop, www.njcul.org, www.nycuf.org, or www.redcross.org/hurricane-sandy.By Cyndi Cohen