Credit union strength shines through in the wake of Ida
FAIRHOPE, AL (September 8, 2021) — A powerful hurricane passes, the TV crews wrap up their equipment, and we click away from the Weather Channel.
Who stays are the very people that credit unions are pledged to serve – especially the ones without the resources to spend weeks in hotels while the local utility repairs their fallen transmission towers, and New Orleans struggles with sewage pumps that can’t run without power.
Who also stays are the everyday heroes. As hundreds of thousands of people evacuate the city along the I-10 corridor, these are the people driving the other way – into the heart of the devastation. These are the people who volunteer to stay home – knowing that “home” would be dramatically altered over the next 6 hours… and that it may take 6 months for life to get back to normal.
These people reach out, often using text because many cell towers are down, and text is carried over a more efficient bandwidth than voice and internet.
The messages from the credit union heroes are straight and to the point: “We need water, ice, food, gas, generators… and cash.” In a world without power or internet, we quickly revert to cash, and cash is not easy to find when branches are down and ATMs can’t communicate. The mission of most credit unions in the wake of a hurricane is simple: get as much cash as possible into the hands of as many people as possible. Not a member? No problem, you’re in our community, and you need cash to survive.
Those who work with the underserved speak of “food deserts”. The aftermath of a hurricane creates a wholesale “supply desert” – a band that extends outward from the path of the storm.
On Friday, September 3, four days after Ida made landfall, the boundary of this supply desert extended as far east as the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay – where CU*SOUTH makes its home. Generators that had been sold out at the big box stores in Louisiana and Mississippi were stacked by the hundreds in Daphne, AL.
Now consider the story of New Orleans Firemen’s Federal Credit Union (NOFCU). Three days after Ida made landfall, 6 of 9 branches remained closed, and 50 of 100 employees could not return to their homes. The Credit Union knew they had over 26,000 members to serve, and with an employee-to-member ratio of 1:260, each employee they could bring back meant more first-responders and families would be served.
So the call from NOFCU went out from their Chief Administrative & Development Officer, Armand Parvazi: “Our employees are in desperate need of essentials including water, food, generators, gasoline, etc. We are working quickly to help our employees and members. Are there any resources CU*SOUTH can offer at this time to help our team? Anything and everything will be appreciated. Thank you.” The same message went to the leagues, chapters, the National Council of Firefighter Credit Unions, and many others – and folks responded with generous support.
In addition to water, ice, food, fuel and generators, here’s what got loaded on the truck on Friday:
- Inflatable mattresses for employees planning to sleep at the Credit Union
- Camping stoves
- Toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, and plastic utensils
- Soap, deodorant, toothpaste, and toothbrushes
- Laundry detergent, bleach, and other cleaning supplies (remember the sewers that aren’t working? They’re still not.)
- Ziploc bags (for the food that can be saved) and trash bags (for the food that can’t)
Meanwhile, CU*SOUTH put out a request for support. Within 12 hours, the CUSO had secured over $23,000 in pledges from nine credit unions, four partner CUSOs, and an industry marketing partner:
- ANECA FCU (Shreveport, LA)
- RVA Financial FCU (Richmond, VA)
- MyPensacola FCU (Pensacola, FL)
- MUNA FCU (Meridian, MS)
- Calhoun-Liberty Employees CU (Blountstown, FL)
- Commodore Perry FCU (Oak Harbor, OH)
- Pinnacle CU (Atlanta, GA)
- Michigan Legacy CU (Wyandotte, MI)
- CU*Answers (Grand Rapids, MI)
- Corporate America CU (Irondale, AL)
- eDOC Innovations (Middlebury, VT)
- RekindleGoBig (PA)
- Xtend (Grand Rapids, MI)
- The BA Group (Northfield, MN)
CU*SOUTH employees pitched in as well with over $5,000 of employee and CUSO-matched funds pledged to this relief project.
Eighteen hours later, the CU*SOUTH truck was packed and rolling west on I-10 towards New Orleans and the Credit Union.
NOFCU CEO Judy Delucca personally supervised the distribution. “We are so grateful for this generous support! This means so much to our people, especially those who aren’t expecting power to be restored until the end of the month!” exclaims Delucca. “With so many of our branches damaged, we are looking at options to bring pop-up branches to our fire stations,” said Delucca. “Wherever our members are working to restore communities, that’s where we need to be.”
Trust is a powerful tool in the weeks after a hurricane. After Hurricane Michael punched a Category 5 path through the central panhandle of Florida in 2018, Calhoun-Liberty Employees Credit Union (CLECU) was the only financial institution in a two-county area with cash in their ATM – thanks to the foresight of CEO Thomas Flowers. When local banks were off the grid, Thomas Flowers and CLECU were the only source of cash in the area – and it didn’t matter if you were a member or not.
It’s hard to wrap your head around the determination and self-sacrifice of a credit union employee; displaced from their home and uncertain about what they’ll come back to. And yet to put all that behind them, put a smile on their face, and ignore the heat and humidity of a late New Orleans summer so they can be there when the doors are opened to serve their members, and community members. Credit unions along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast are just wired to trust – and to help. After a hurricane passes through, it leaves not only the structural damage that appears on the TV news, but also a critical shortage of vital supplies.
The story of New Orleans Firemen’s Federal Credit Union is one of at least 80 stories from credit unions left in the dark after the lights went out in New Orleans.
Each story is different.
At the heart of each story are the credit union heroes who leverage their position in the financial sector to do the most for the members and communities they serve.
CU*SOUTH is a credit union-owned cooperative focused on building a network of successful credit unions. CU*SOUTH offers a wide variety of services including the Tier-1 CU*BASE® processing system offered in both online (ASP) and in-house processing environments, as well as a fully integrated online and mobile banking solution. CU*SOUTH also provides a variety of managed services through its CUSO@Work division, as well as through collaborative partnerships with other CUSOs in the rapidly-growing cuasterisk.com network—CU*Answers, CU*NorthWest, eDOC Innovations, Xtend, and Site-Four. Managed services allow credit unions to outsource tasks at a fraction of the cost of a full-time specialist—accounting, collections, compliance, lending, marketing, call center, web design. As a partner of the cuasterisk.com network, CU*SOUTH provides a comprehensive offering of information technology tools and services through a collaborative, shared ownership model, with the same great value credit unions offer members. For more information, visit www.cusouth.com.