There’s an old saying, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” For many in our credit union family in the Florida panhandle and surrounding areas, life will never be the same after being in the path of one of the nation’s largest hurricanes. The work has just begun to help our credit union family rebuild.
Monetary donations are still critically needed, as more than 200 requests for grant assistance have already been received by the Southeastern Credit Union Foundation from credit union staff and volunteers who were impacted by Hurricane Michael. The storm left so many families without housing and basic provisions and the recovery process is certain to be long and difficult for credit unions and their teams. Our credit unions overall have heard from most of their employees but there are still some that have not been able to make contact with everyone, even two weeks after the storm.
Bay CU is operating the Suncoast mobile branch at its main location and has two other locations open. Panhandle Educators FCU has three branches open this week with limited hours. Tyndall’s loan processing center that was impacted is open for operations and Innovations FCU has its drive thrus open at three locations with three ATMs. Jackson County Teachers is operating but is without phone service. They are using temporary cell phones for their call center. Calhoun-Liberty Employees CU is operational and serving their members at both their branches. Emerald Coast FCU has two locations open with limited hours however some drive-thru/ATM are closed due to damage and its Eastpoint office has resumed normal operating hours. Most do not have telephone service to their branches yet.
Juli Lewis, Director of SECUF, has been taking grant requests over the phone and via email and processing them immediately because the need is so great. More than $256,000 in grant requests have already been received and approved by the SECUF for credit union staff and volunteers who have experienced loss, but grants are coming in every minute and this is just the tip of the iceberg. These grants provide immediate assistance for things like repairs to damaged cars, so folks can get to work and deposits on temporary housing, etc. There is so much more that these communities are going to need. The devastation is real, and we have only scratched the surface in recovery.
Another family’s experience highlights the people helping people credit union spirit. One CU CEO from Alabama was able to make his vacation condo in Destin available for a credit union employee whose family had been displaced due to the storm. The family had been separated, staying at three different locations because there are so few options and resources available. The family was grateful and in tears when they were reunited.
The impacted credit unions have been able to get up partially up and running and are still functioning with loaned mobile units, portable ATMs, and generators. Pen Air FCU provided Innovations FCU with its mobile branch/ATM and to Suncoast CU, which deployed its mobile unit to Bay CU. Additionally, America’s First FCU based in Birmingham supplied Tyndall FCU with a mobile branch/ATM. Additionally, Harvesters FCU provided an RV for use by impacted credit unions and/or their employees.
Credit unions and partners from all over have offered help and at this time, but the greatest need is for donations to help rebuild. Both the LSCU’s Southeastern Credit Union Foundation and the National Credit Union Foundation’s CU Aid are working to raise funds to assist those in need of immediate help. Donations to CU Aid can be made at https://ebus.cuna.org/FOUNDATION/PERSONIFYEBUSINESS/Default.aspx?TabID=1512&CashProductId=195859056 and to the SECUF at https://www.lscu.coop/foundation/disaster-relief/