With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the holiday season is nearly upon us. For many, this is a time to build traditions, create memories, and reconnect with loved ones. While this seems well-intentioned, people often get caught up in the superficial aspects of the season – gift-buying, deal-hunting, over-the-top decorating, extravagant entertaining, travel plans, and to-do lists. In all of this, the real meaning of this special time of year can easily become clouded.
Governed daily by the “People Helping People” mantra, credit unions are well-poised to remind folks of and help them harken back to the true purpose of the winter holidays -- giving to others, spreading joy, and helping those less fortunate.
Throughout November and December many credit unions sponsor and/or participate in events and efforts aimed at bringing the spirit of the season to their communities, benefitting charitable organizations, and bringing us back to the heart of the holidays.
Many credit unions take the holiday season as an opportunity to help children whose holidays would otherwise be less merry and bright.
“Last year was the first year we participated in Toys for Tots and with such great turnout, we plan to participate again this year,” said Mary DeLoney, Marketing Specialist. There are several drop boxes at CU locations for both employees and members to donate toys.
AFCU also has several departments and service centers that participate in the Angel Tree and volunteer together at their local shelters. Currently the CU is in the midst of a fundraising campaign for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation as well.
Likewise, CFE Credit Union (Lake Mary, FL) conducts a toy drive with their staff members to benefit foster children. Individuals or entire departments “adopt” a child and purchase the top three items on their holiday wish list.
“Providing a nice Christmas for a child who otherwise might not receive any gifts follows the CU philosophy of ‘People Helping People,’ said Suzanne Dusch, VP Marketing. “We’re always amazed at the quality and quantity of gifts that are donated from electronics, dolls, and games to clothing, arts & crafts supplies, and bikes & helmets. One year, three of our senior managers spent hours putting several bicycles and tricycles together for the kids.”
Mountain America Credit Union (Salt Lake City, UT) also supports children through Project Elf, a charity effort on behalf of the Christmas Box House which works with the Division of Child and Family Services to help provide toys to children who are neglected or abused and would not otherwise receive anything for the holidays.
“With Project Elf, each child receives three gifts donated by credit union employees. In 2014, Mountain America was able to fulfill 291 gift items which gave Christmas to 97 children,” reported Christine Baniewicz, Marketing Services Manager.
“It’s a heartwarming experience when gifts start overtaking office space as we gather items to take to the Christmas Box House,” expressed Marshall Paepke, Chief Administrative Officer. “Every year we’re able to increase what we give because of the cheerful generosity of MACU’s extraordinary employees – the true measure of ‘People Helping People.’”
“The event is named for former Veridian board member Mike Adams and his wife, Leona. The couple built a partnership between the credit union and the local UAW to offer the first free Thanksgiving dinner in 1982, when many Iowans were impacted by tough economic times,” explained Andrea Hudnut, Public Relations Strategist.
Additionally, starting July 2014, MACU helped the Christmas Box House stock up with a Christmas in July charity drive. Clothes, shoes, hygiene items, bedding and toys are all needed throughout the year and this helped fill the shelves.
At Royal Credit Union (New Richmond, WI), the holidays are a busy time focused on little ones. RCU partners with Kiwanis as a drop-off site for Coats for Kids, collects food for their local food pantries, and their team members pick families to purchase gifts for from various giving trees. “We participate in many community parades, and our kid’s “downtown deer” antlers are a big hit,” added Sarah Jaeger, Community Engagement Coordinator. “We also have our very own Holiday Toy Drive in all 24 of our locations during November.” All toys collected are delivered to the nearest Salvation Army to be distributed to those in need.
RTN Federal Credit Union (Waltham, MA) also holds a toy drive at their Tewksbury branch, benefitting children from The Wish Project in Lowell/Lawrence, MA, an area with some of the largest poverty rates in Massachusetts. “RTN supports this cause throughout the year,” said Cynthia Lepore, Senior Business Development Officer.
Another way credit unions spread holiday cheer is through the gift of food and clothing.
Veridian Credit Union (Waterloo, IA) partners annually with the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 838 to sponsor their Mike and Leona Adams Thanksgiving Dinner. Preparations are already underway for the celebration, now in its 33rd year. Volunteers will serve up to 1,000 meals free of charge on Monday, November 23 from 4:30-7 p.m. at UAW Local 838 Union Hall in Waterloo.
“Mike and Leona Adams set an example for all of us to follow. They saw a need in their community and formed partnerships to fill it,” said Veridian CEO Monte Berg. “It’s Veridian’s honor and commitment to continue that legacy.”
In addition to a free, hot meal, attendees can receive a free hair cut from Clip Art Corner and blood pressure check from Cedar Valley Hospice. Plus free transportation to the event is provided by Metropolitan Transit Authority of Black Hawk County for anyone living in Cedar Falls, Evansdale or Waterloo.
Royal Credit Union, in addition to their toy drive, also has “No Shave November,” chili cook offs, bake sales and vendor fairs to raise money for United Way. “We live by our Core Purpose ‘to create a positive impact in the live we touch’ and our six Core Values. We strive to make a difference, aim to do the right thing and aspire to be caring and friendly to everyone. As such, our holiday efforts fit perfectly with the RCU philosophy. As a credit union, we’re not just a business, we truly are ‘People Helping People’ and making a difference,” said Jaeger.
Likewise, RTN makes the holidays a little tastier and warmer for those in need through events like:
• Bristol Lodge Soup Kitchen Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner -- Committee members paid out of their own pockets to purchase food, then cook and serve approximately 70-80 individuals in need in Waltham, MA, on October 28.
• Thanksgiving Food Drives -- Held at RTN’s Amesbury, Danvers, Marlborough and Tewksbury MA branches. Donated non-perishable items are distributed through Our Neighbors’ Table in Amesbury, Haven for Hunger in Danvers, St. Matthias Church in Marlborough, and the Tewksbury Food Pantry. In Waltham, baskets with donated food and supermarket gift cards, and turkeys from The Common Café, are given to four local families.
• Coat Drive -- Donations of all sizes can be made to RTN beginning in late October for distribution to those in need during the winter season.
Some credit unions spread the holiday cheer by showing ‘thanks’ to their members.
RTN will host the First Light and Holiday Stroll. These two branch-supported community events are set to be held November 19 with activities for children, including photos with Santa, holiday refreshments, and giveaways.
Additionally, RTN’s Member Appreciation Day scheduled for December 12th at all CU branches, is their way to thank members for enabling RTN to serve them throughout the year. The family-fun event features children’s activities, including a stocking decorating station, photos with Santa, refreshments and giveaways. This year, RTN will mark the end of its 70th anniversary with special prize drawings for members from December 1-11 that include lottery packages, RTN Visa gift cards, and a grand prize of $1,770 TBA at a later date.
“While RTN actively supports community initiatives throughout the year, the holiday season is when the spirit of giving is especially needed,” says Sarita Ledani, RTN’s AVP of Business Development. “I am proud that RTN is so generous as an organization and through our employees’ volunteerism, and we’re able to make the holiday season a little brighter and easier for those in need.”
With the holidays right around the corner, why not join your credit union and get into the true spirit of giving? Give up one party or shopping day to bring some joy to those less fortunate. You’ll help yourself by helping others, and get back to the heart of the holidays!By Cyndi Cohen