MADISON, Wis. (9/3/10)--It's hard to wrap one's mind around the extent of the damages and hardship wreaked five years to the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina. Almost as mind-boggling is the extent of the credit union movement's response--one that time and time again is mentioned by the people who lived through the disaster.
Cash became king in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. An Escambia County, Fla., SWAT team accompanied two Pensacola, Fla.-based Pen Air FCU officials to deliver funds to Keesler FCU in Biloxi, Miss. The delivery was made on Sept. 2--four days after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. The civilians in the photo are John Davis, then president/CEO of Pen Air FCU; Scotty Broome, then president/CEO of Keesler FCU; and John Ochs, then Pen Air FCU executive vice president/chief operating officer. (Photo provided by Pen Air FCU)
Katrina brought out the Good Samaritan in everyone. Credit unions took full advantage of their cooperative nature and the system in place to get credit unions in the affected areas the help they needed. They stepped up to provide the type of assistance that they themselves almost take for granted because, "Hey, that's our philosophy--'People Helping People.'" But credit unions broke all kinds of records with their outpouring of support. The National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF), aided by collections efforts coordinated by state credit union foundations and leagues, said in 2009 that it worked with the Louisiana Credit Union League and Mississippi Credit Union Association to distribute more than $3.6 million in Katrina-relief grants--specifically for credit union people. It was the largest disaster-relief fundraising effort in credit union history (News Now
Feb. 3, 2009). As a result of that hurricane season, a new fundraising mechanism was formed: CU Aid, the online fundraising platform developed by NCUF to assist credit unions and credit union people impacted by disasters. Using the platform helped to keep credit unions' relief dollars helping credit unions. The platform still exists today, and was used most recently in getting relief to credit unions destroyed in Haiti's earthquake. Funds were just the tip of the iceberg. In the months that followed the Aug. 29, 2005 landfall of the hurricane, thousands of credit unions chipped in, with funds, office equipment, supplies such as satellite phones and generators and backup equipment. Some credit unions opened their physical doors to credit unions whose branches were underwater and shared their space. The state leagues in Louisiana and Mississippi, whose employees faced much the same situation as their credit unions' employees, coordinated at the local and regional level, helping find temporary offices, matching donor credit unions with ones in need, acting as liaisons between homeless credit union employees and grants from credit union foundations, and setting up visits with grief counselors. A shortage of cash right after the hurricane hit prompted help from several corporates such as Louisiana Corporate CU, which offered $15 million in special disaster lines-of-credit at 0% interest. By early November that year, it had already loaned out $8 million. (News Now
Nov. 8, 2005). Southeast Corporate FCU coordinated cash drops to Mississippi credit unions and provided equipment. Its staff trucked in 25 generators, gasoline, cell phones and computers (News Now
Sept. 7, 2005). Others concentrated on the people, getting them the basics: a place to stay, food, and even utensils. Numerous credit unions "adopted" the staffs of the affected credit unions and provided support. News Now
received a steady flow of information in 2005 and 2006 detailing what credit unions were doing to help. (See slide show). And sometimes the little gestures meant the most--the cookies baked, the Valentine's Day flowers sent, the holiday presents provided for staff and families. All in all, credit unions more than lived up to the philosophy they practice every day. But with Katrina, they went above and beyond.