Generosity of CUs, Individuals, Businesses Help Fire Victims

Redwood CU fire relief efforts
The Press Democrat CEO Steve Falk, Senator Mike McGuire, President of the Redwood CU Community Fund Cynthia Negri, and Redwood CU CEO Brett Martinez with check representing the more than $32 million distributed by the North Bay Fire Relief Fund.

Thanks to the generosity of credit unions, individuals, and businesses, millions have been raised to assist affected residents in areas devastated by the deadly and costly wildfires of the fall of 2017. Additionally, a number of credit union employees stepped up and helped during and after the fires. 

The following is a snapshot of how credit unions have worked to assist fire victims, some of whom lost everything, including their livelihoods, when fires swept through various areas of Northern and Southern California.

Click here to view a video created by the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ C-Sun Studios featuring League Senior Vice President of Member Solutions Larry Palochik delivering a recap of the devastating 2017 California wildfires and thanking the credit union community for its commitment and assistance

The North Bay Fire Relief Fund (NBFRF)—a partnership of The Press Democrat, Senator Mike McGuire, and Redwood CU—collected and distributed more than $32 million from more than 41,100 donors to support immediate needs of fire victims in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties. The Fund represents one of the largest and most successful disaster relief efforts in Northern California history. It is housed within the Redwood CU Community Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit fund. The credit union paid for all administrative costs.

More than $20 million of the money raised went to direct assistance to fire victims: 6,593 residents who lost homes or experienced economic hardship; 102 first responders who lost homes; and 2,253 K-12 and college students who lost their homes received gift cards to replace school clothes and supplies.

Another $9.5 million went to nonprofits serving immediate needs of fire survivors. One million dollars was given to small businesses impacted by the fires; while more than $942,000 was given to support fire survivor health and well-being including health and dental care, lost sporting equipment, and holiday programs.

“The resilience of our North Bay communities is second to none. Not only has our region answered the call for help, but the world has shown its heartfelt support, and we’re deeply grateful for the generosity of everyone who donated to support fire survivors,” said Cynthia Negri, president of the Redwood CU Community Fund. "We could not have done it without our partners The Press Democrat, and Senator Mike McGuire, and the incredible support from many local nonprofits and corporate sponsors—it’s proves we’re truly in this together.”

Community First CU—also affected by the fires in Santa Rosa—provided three rapid-fire responses for members, including skipped loan payments as well as 90-day-no payment loans for cars, RVs, manufactured homes, and other non-real-estate.

“This was meant for people who, say, had an incinerated truck, and insurance money was coming, but it wasn’t there just yet,” said Chief Marketing and HR Officer David Williams. “We figured 90 days or so would give enough time for insurance payments to come through.”

Community First CU ad in the Press Democrat thanking first-responders and citizen heroes. David Williams from the credit union says: “The word around here: resilient. Out of bad, often comes good. We are reeling, to be sure, but also more together, and more interested in working with each other and getting things done than ever before.


The credit union initiated a few hundred skip-a-pays, more than 100 no-payment loan offers for 90 days, and dozens of instant micro-loans to help members get their initial needs met, Williams said.

Additionally, Community First sent $5,000 to trusted and long-standing nonprofits at each of the four counties it serves: North Coast Opportunities (Mendocino County); Lake County Rotary Fire Fund; Napa Valley Community Foundation; and Community Action Partnership (Sonoma County). The latter matched the credit union’s donation to effectively give $10,000 to those in Sonoma County, which suffered the worst damage/destruction, Williams said.

Patelco CU recently held a check presentation event for three Santa Rosa charities: Ceres Community Project, Redwood Empire Food Bank, and Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, donating $78,000 to each via contributions made by the credit union, members, employees, and the broader Bay Area region.

"It was heartbreaking to see our members' lives shattered by the devastating fires and now nearly five months on, we wanted to show the North Bay that Patelco is still there for them," said Patelco CU President and CEO Erin Mendez. "It's Patelco's mission to fuel hope and financial wellbeing no matter the situation, and many of the affected community members are still struggling to put their lives back together. This event was our way of saying they will not be forgotten."

Patelco CU recently held a check presentation event for three Santa Rosa, Calif., charities: Ceres Community Project, Redwood Empire Food Bank and Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, donating $78,000 to each via contributions by the credit union, members, employees, and Bay Area residents.


At one point, Patelco’s Santa Rosa branch was just a city block from the Tubbs Fire. More than 70 Patelco members lost their homes. In addition to fundraising and volunteering, Patelco also enacted its Disaster Relief Program for members. Hundreds of members took advantage of the benefits to get back on their feet, including personal loans at zero-percent interest; an additional $5,000 to $10,000 loans at a very low, special disaster relief rate, and skipped or deferred loan payments.

Ventura County CU last week launched a member-focused grant program to assist those members impacted by the Thomas Fire. The program provides assistance of $1,000 to those members whose primary residence was destroyed, and $500 for those whose primary residence is unlivable or for those who suffered other significant documented loss. In the first seven business days of the program, it has confirmed five grants for a total of $4,500 with eight additional submissions pending review, said Ventura County CU Director of Community Partnerships Natalie Yanez. The credit union also provided loan assistance.

“We’re trying to assist them (members). We want to let them know that we’re here, and as your credit union, we want to help you get through this process as best we can,” Yanez said.

Ventura County CU Assistant Marketing Manager Rachel Bravo (on the left) volunteering with the American Red Cross Ventura Chapter at the evacuation center days after the Thomas Fire began. 


The credit union has a program in which employees can take up to 40 hours a year to volunteer in the community. During the fires and afterward, many took advantage of that program and did just that—volunteering with, among others, the American Red Cross, provided immediate assistance to those in need. Staff also stepped up in other ways, Yanez said. One employee opened her home on Christmas day to host Red Cross volunteers (who had arrived from across the nation and were staying at a local military base), and treated them to a home-cooked meal, desserts, and gifts. 

The credit union provided office space for the Red Cross, FEMA, and the SBA to establish a disaster assistance center. In addition, through its Foundation, the credit union established a fire relief campaign, collecting a little more than $10,000 so far. VCCU will cover all administrative costs. The money was distributed to the United Way of Ventura County (which is helping those in the Ventura and Santa Barbara areas affected by the Thomas Fire) and Ventura County Community Foundation.

Napa Valley Education Foundation Executive Director Jennifer Stewart with backpacks donated by Schools Financial CU to help those kids affected by the tragic fires that hit Napa Valley October 2017. 


Schools Financial CU—which had members affected from the fires in Yuba City and Napa—provided a total of 200 backpacks stuffed with school supplies to school districts in those two areas.

“We reached out to the districts and they said that providing these backpacks would help students whose families lost everything in the fires. Both counties were extremely grateful for the assistance,” said VP of Marketing Cathy Grimes.


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