Lending a Hand When Disaster Strikes
Posted by Katy Wagnon on January 19, 2024
Staying true to the “People Helping People” philosophy, in 2023 credit unions united in response to extraordinary natural disasters that affected communities in the GoWest region and beyond. In August, catastrophic wildfires swept across Maui , which forced more than 11,000 people to evacuate and devastated the town of Lahaina. Later that month, two fires in eastern Washington that ranked among the most destructive in the state’s history.
Ever committed to serving their members and communities, several credit unions and individuals raised $44,470 in partnership with the GoWest Foundation toward disaster relief efforts in Washington. They also donated significantly to support the National Credit Union Foundation’s CUAid program for those affected in Hawaii.
Like many of the credit unions in the Spokane area, STCU became a hub of support for the Oregon and Gray Fire wildfire response, initiating a rapid, multi-level approach to address the crisis. After discovering more than two dozen employees had initially been affected, the credit union supported staff in many ways including distributing gift cards to cover unanticipated expenses such as food, shelter, and fuel and providing new logo wear. In addition, staff members immediately donated their team building dollars to a team member whose property was impacted. The GoWest Foundation supported STCU’s staff with funds to mitigate disaster-related costs incurred by their employees.
For members, STCU activated its Member-in-Need Program. Initially created to offset hardships during the pandemic, the program provided $28,000 in gift cards to hundreds of members within two weeks of the disaster, including about $12,000 dedicated to four branches located in the heart of the fires. STCU also granted skip payments and emergency loans to nearly 50 members, said Vice President, Director of Community Relations Traci McGlathery.
The credit union tapped into its Here for Good Foundation, launched in January 2023, to expand support to the region. Within a few days of the fire’s start, STCU, along with Washington Trust Bank and Premera Blue Cross, each made $50,000 contributions to the Innovia Foundation’s Wildfire Emergency Response Fund, launching the fund with $200,000 that eventually raised more than $1 million. Here for Good also donated to Re*Imagine Medical Lake and Innovia’s Elk Community Wildfire Fund toward rebuild and recovery efforts. Accounts were also activated at STCU for members and community members to donate to the American Red Cross’s Help2NW effort, in partnership with local CBS affiliate, KREM-2 News.
“What has always been remarkable to us is the level of trust that the community and members have in STCU. They know if they donate to us, we’re going to get their money into the hands of where it is needed most,” McGlathery said. “Same with the [Here for Good] Foundation. We received over $15,000, including many $1,000 contributions, to support our community members.”
Local relationships also made a big impact. STCU underwrote the cost of hundreds of t-shirts sold at a Spokane area high school football game for a community fundraiser while staff members donated money and time to several nonprofits in the first week following the wildfire. Branch representatives attended a community vigil in Medical Lake and the Here for Good Foundation provided $10,000 for those who had been evacuated or suffered other losses.
The credit union’s fast and comprehensive approach was aided by practice —unfortunately, several natural disasters or crises have struck the area over the years — and an instinctual desire to help others. The support inside the organization was so strong, staff members were nearly climbing up walls wanting to volunteer and do something to help from the get-go, said McGlathery.
“It was being there for our staff, members and community. Our staff knew there were a number of tools and resources at their disposal to help our members,” she said. “We knew if we learned of a member who was impacted, we were going to walk alongside them in the process.”
The GoWest Foundation is grateful for the many ways STCU and our region’s credit unions supported disaster relief efforts in 2023. If your credit union or employees are impacted by a natural disaster, please reach out to [email protected] for assistance.