Northwest Credit Unions Raising Funds for Survivors of Deadly Washington Mudslide

Northwest credit unions are mobilizing this week to help the survivors of Washington’s deadly mudslide in Oso with a fundraising campaign that will earmark donations for housing, supplies and other immediate needs.

“The loss of lives and family homes is devastating. For the most part, the entire mountainside of homes is gone,” says Troy Stang, Northwest Credit Union Association president and CEO. “We can make a difference now if the entire credit union community comes together to provide families with the financial help they need.”

Stang says the Northwest Credit Union Foundation will donate $5,000 to the fund. OSU Federal Credit Union President/CEO Rick Hein said this week that his credit union also will donate $5,000, even though Corvallis is located more than 300 miles from the disaster site.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of Oso,” Hein says, “and to the first responders who are still working to find survivors.”

On Wednesday, WSECU said it would also donate $5,000 to the fund. On Friday, Anchorage-based Alaska USA Federal Credit Union said it would do the same. Clackamas Federal Credit Union contributed $2,500; Pacific NW Federal, Providence Federal, St. Helens Community Federal, TAPCO, Trailhead, USAgencies and Valley Credit Union each added $1,000; and Gesa Credit Union announced that it would match community members’ donations, dollar for dollar, up to $10,000.

“Credit unions exist to help people, and here at Gesa we are committed to doing what we can to help,” President/CEO Don Miller says. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost loved ones, the families who have lost homes, and the first responders who are still working to find survivors.”

Contributions to the fund can be made online and will be accepted through April 9. At that point, the Foundation will work with United Way of Snohomish County to make sure donations are directed to housing and other immediate needs. Through Friday morning, more than $50,000 had been donated or committed to the fund.

“We’re keeping a clear record of donor intent,” says Dennis G. Smith, president and CEO of the United Way chapter. “We are creating the conduit for connecting those who care with those who have been affected.”

The massive mudslide, which hit March 22 about 55 miles northeast of Seattle, is one of the deadliest in U.S. history. On Monday, the number of confirmed dead increased to 33 after more bodies were found in the debris field. Thirty of the victims have been identified by the Snohomish County medical examiner; 10 people remain missing.

OSU Federal’s Hein Urges Other Credit Unions to Match $5,000 Donation

OSU Federal President/CEO Rick Hein said  this week that his credit union will donate $5,000 to the Northwest Credit Union Foundation’s fund to benefit survivors of the mudslide in Oso, and he challenged others in Washington and Oregon to do the same.

“We’d like to see all credit unions in the Northwest with assets above $100 million match or beat that amount,” Hein says. “If all will rise to this call for help, we can ‘unite for good’ and aid a struggling community in its time of crisis.”

Contributions to the fund can be made online and will be accepted through Wednesday, April 9. At that point, the Foundation will work with United Way of Snohomish County to make sure donations are directed to housing and other immediate needs.

Credit union members can also contribute to the fund, and the Northwest Credit Union Association has created a sample message that credit unions can use on their websites to raise awareness of the fundraising effort.

Finding and identifying victims has been extremely challenging, and not all may ultimately be recovered. When the hillside gave way on the morning of March 22, it created a 300-acre debris field filled with gooey muck, splintered wood, housing insulation and hazardous material like septic tanks, gasoline and propane containers.

“If you’ve seen the local news coverage, you know the site looks like a war zone,” Stang says. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, as well as with the community. The loss of lives is devastating. And a lifetime of memories is buried in 40 feet of earth and debris.”

BECU has already confirmed that one of its members lost his wife and grandchild in the slide, and that nine other member families may have been impacted. Todd Pietzch, BECU’s manager of public relations, says the credit union has reached out to those members, telling them to take care of their families and not to worry about mortgages, credit cards and other accounts.

“We are not going to put anyone through any additional hardship,” Pietzsch says. “We’re doing everything we can. We’ll be assessing all their needs.”

BECU is challenging its employees with a two-for-one fundraising match, and the credit union has added direct links to the American Red Cross and United Way on its member-facing website, Pietzsch says.

Gayle Yost is the CEO of Community Healthcare Federal Credit Union in Everett, which is located just 30 miles from the site of the mudslide. “Everyone coming into the credit union has a story,” she says. “Either someone they know or a relative was impacted by the mudslide. The need is great.”

SnoCope Credit Union is also located in Everett, and President/CEO Steven Ellis says it matters to survivors and to the community at large that credit unions are so willing to help.

“For credit unions to step up in support is important,” Ellis says. “Collectively, credit unions are fulfilling their ‘people helping people’ mission.”

Funds raised by Northwest credit unions will be distributed to all impacted families as needed. “Credit union member or not, they are our neighbors and our credit unions want to help,” Stang says.

Additional financial assistance may be available for credit union volunteers, employees and members from the National Credit Union Foundation through its CUAid General Disaster Relief Fund. Grants range from $500 to $1,500; an application form is now available on the NWCUA’s website.

Credit union members are also urged to contribute to the NWCUF fund, and the Foundation has created a sample message that credit unions can use on their websites to raise awareness. Contributions can be made online, and will be accepted through April 9.

Questions about this story? Contact Gary M. Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

Posted in Federal.