Credit Unions Assist Those Impacted by CA Wildfires

fire relief
Firefighters First CU’s charitable arm, the Fire Family Foundation, has donated to first responders comfort care bags filled with various necessities such as a toiletry bag with razor and shaving cream, and toothbrush and toothpaste.

As Northern California credit unions deal with staff being evacuated from their homes and the closure of branches due to mandatory evacuations or hazardous air quality, they are also pivoting to help those affected by the wildfires still raging in the region.

(Please also take a look at Section 6, pages 21 – 25, of "How Redwood Credit Union Responded to the 2017 North Bay Fires", where Redwood CU CEO Brett Martinez details a number of steps that are applicable to today’s wildfires and natural disasters across California. This section includes practices, communication, technology, and staffing — and was shared with credit union CEOs during a call this past week.)

Travis CU—being impacted by the LNU Lightning Complex, the second largest in California history—is now accepting donations to its Foundation to bring immediate financial assistance to the victims, firefighters, and communities. The credit union is covering administrative costs, so 100 percent of all donations will go directly towards supporting recovery efforts.

“The wildfires are taking a massive toll on our communities and residents of Solano, Yolo, and Napa counties,” said Travis CU CEO Barry Nelson. “The generosity of those who wish to give will help as we continue to support the needs of the most affected.”  To make a secure, tax-deductible donation online, click here.  

Individuals may also send checks payable to the Travis Credit Union Foundation, noting that the donation is for the Wildfires Relief Fund. Checks should be mailed to: Travis Credit Union Foundation, PO Box 1086, Vacaville, CA. 95687-9998.

As soon as the evacuation orders were put in place, the staff at Bay Federal CU—which has been impacted by the CZU Lightning Complex, Carmel, and River fires—quickly set to help. Some raised money to purchase supplies for those in evacuation shelters; others donated items to the animal shelters; one delivered ice cream to those staying at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds; one administered a Facebook group providing critical information to San Lorenzo Valley residents; while still others provided cash donations for fire relief efforts.

Patelco CU has activated its Disaster Relief program for those affected. The program includes: an immediate $500 personal loan at 0 percent interest for up to one year;  waiver of early withdrawal fees on any share certificates; reimbursement of any ATM fees for non-network ATM withdrawals; reversal of NSF or late fees; and low-interest loans at 5.0 percent APR for loans up to $10,000 (5-year term). It is also offering payment deferrals on most existing loans in good standing through November 30, 2020, to affected members, according to Executive Director of Credit Union Affairs Flora Nafei.

Some of the many ways Redwood CU has reacted to the fire impact includes providing special loan assistance programs for those impacted by the fires and evacuations as well as hotel rooms for any  evacuated employees in need. It posted resources as well as insurance information on its website to support evacuees and the insurance department mobilized to field an influx of calls about evaluation support, as well as rental insurance for those in warning zones. Many affordable new policies were booked in the last several days, which will be helpful into the future.

“Due to unhealthy smoke conditions, we deployed air purifiers to all branches for the safety of our employees and members,” said Communications and Public Relations Manager Tracy Condron. “In understanding the importance of members being able to access their money, all branches but one remained open during regular hours. Our Lower Lake branch was in a mandatory evacuation zone and was closed for two days but ATMs remained open so those evacuating could access funds.”

In addition, Redwood invited first responders to use, when needed, its large digital sign at its Lower Lake branch because it sits on a highly trafficked and visible downtown crossroads. The Sheriff’s Department did request its use to direct residents to the nearest shelter. Redwood made that happen within two hours. And it has arranged for finance expert Jean Chatzky to host a webinar for members and others in the community called “Finding Financial Resilience in Uncertain Times.” The virtual event is Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m. and will be made available on YouTube after the event, for broader reach.

Firefighters First CU is working with members directly impacted by the fires (where their house is either destroyed or uninhabitable). It is offering emergency relief loans of 0 percent for 6 months; construction loans—with interest-only payments during construction; and loan extensions. The credit union has a partnership with BALANCE for free counseling on how to manage the financial impact of the disaster and its Firefighter Insurance Services (FIS) will review insurance coverage and help with next steps—even if not insured through FIS, according to Senior Vice President Marketing Kelly Ramsay.

Firefighters First CU’s charitable arm, the Fire Family Foundation, supports all firefighters who have lost their home even if they are not a member of the credit union. So far, the Foundation has provided Command Centers with disaster relief fund gift cards each loaded with $250.00 for emergency purchases as well as comfort care bags filled with blanket, small notebook and pen, emergency sleeping bag, and toiletry bag with soap, comb, shampoo/conditioner, hand sanitizer, razor and shaving cream and toothbrush and toothpaste. If you wish to support the Foundation, click here.

First Financial CU is providing an emergency loan program for members affected by the California wildfires.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made this year particularly challenging,” said CEO Carlton Musmann. “The wildfires that blanket the state are devastating. We want our members to know we are here for them if they have been affected by the fires or the coronavirus.”

Catalyst Corporate FCU has services that can help impacted credit unions during closures and outages. For more information, go to Catalyst’s Health/Weather-Related Communications page.

The League continues to reach out and collect information about how the wildfires are affecting credit unions. Please email Tina Ramos-Ingold to let us know if your credit union, staff, or members have been impacted, or if you have started programs or services to assist members and/or the community. 

Grants are available for credit union employees and board members to assist with immediate disaster relief needs. Visit the League's Disaster Relief page for more information on these grants, including an application form. If you would like to donate to CU Aid, you may do so from the Disaster Relief page.

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