Point West Credit Union: Keeping a Commitment to Families in Need

A 14-month-old girl needs toddler books, a 1-year-old boy wants a soft teddy bear and some wood blocks, and an 8-year-old would love a soccer ball and remote control airplane. Reads like a typical holiday gift list. However, the wishes written on handmade paper ornaments mean much more to the Point West Credit Union staff, members, and friends.

They illustrate the very real needs of low-income and vulnerable families in the Point West community, and they honor a commitment the credit union has made to local children for more than 20 years.

Today, Point West—which formed in 1932 to help financially strapped local government workers in Multnomah County—is a community chartered credit union with one Portland location and 30 employees.

Just like many of the Oregonians it serves, Point West struggled during the latest economic recession. The credit union closed branches, cut its budget sharply, and rewrote its business model. Despite these tough times, Point West employees continued the Caring Tree tradition.

No one is quite certain exactly when the tradition started. However, long-time Point West employees estimate they’ve helped more than 1,000 children and families.

Each year the credit union receives wish lists from Multnomah County’s Department of Early Childhood Services, which assists at-risk families with programs that improve pregnancy and birth outcomes and promote family bonding.

“As a low-income designated credit union, the Point West team and its members understand that, at some point, we all need a helping hand,” says Stephen Pagenstecher, Point West Marketing and Member Experience Manager. “In fact, it’s one of the basic principles of our cooperative: that together, we can achieve so much more than we can individually.”

Point West spreads the word about the wishes hung on the Caring Tree through members, news releases, and social media. In some years, the credit union has been able to handle as many as 150 requests.

The enthusiasm is always high. On the designated day, staff arrives at work early to put up the tree decorated with children’s wishes. They keep a daily track of requests in process and gifts received. If, at the end of the campaign, there are requests waiting, employees step in and make sure each one is fulfilled.

The 50 requests in 2013 included clothing, toys, and safety equipment. In total, the credit union proudly delivered more than 200 wrapped items totaling more than $2,500 in value.

“For decades, Point West has helped families in very tough circumstances share the joy of the holidays,” said Loreen Nichols, Director of Multnomah County’s Community Health Services. “They know someone out there cares. And at Multnomah County, we know we have a great community partner that makes a difference.”

The credit unions of Oregon and Washington not only improve their members’ lives, they are foundational to the entire Northwest economy. Learn more here.

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