Spokane Media FCU Gives Member a New Lease on Life

Gary looked distraught when he came through the doors of Spokane Media Federal Credit Union in June. He was carrying a handful of overdue bills, and his usually affable eyes were downcast.

The Spokane Media team had always paid special attention to Gary. They knew that, at 66 years old, he lost his longtime dishwashing job at the end of 2014. And they knew that he didn’t have much savings and only collected a small unemployment benefit and a Social Security check for $767 per month. After his $467 rent, it was hardly enough to pay bills and buy food.

Every Christmas for several years they have given him new warm clothes. And when the credit union hosted events with food, they always boxed up the leftovers for Gary to take home. “He comes to every event,” said Marla Summers, Head Teller, who has been serving Gary since she first came to Spokane Media 17 years ago.

“Gary always handled his accounts with great care,” said Summers. Despite some developmental disabilities, Gary had always been dependable with bills and payments.

Then last December he was hospitalized—he suffers from diabetes and chronic kidney issues. From the hospital he was referred to a nursing facility, and bills started piling up. And to make matters worse, that’s when he lost his job.

When he came into the credit union in June, his unemployment benefits had run out. “We didn’t realize up until that point what dire straits he was in,” said Summers.

They asked Gary to write down a list of all his bills. Summers recalls that, without his unemployment payment, he was between $300 and $400 short every month.

This is the moment when many financial institutions would write Gary off. But the employees at Spokane Media took the opposite direction. They put themselves squarely in Gary’s corner and got to work.

First they looked into cheaper housing options. “We got applications for Catholic Charities, HUD, anything to try to find him a lower rent,” said Summers.

In the process of applying for low-cost housing, they discovered that Gary had served in Vietnam with the Navy. “The lights went on and we applied to the Veteran’s Administration to see if he could get a little pension,” she said. “It took almost three months, but low and behold he did!”

His pension earned him an extra $305 per month, almost enough to keep his head above water. But not quite. They still needed to help him cut his expenses.

“Every time we tried to find him something we ran into a brick wall,” said Summers. The bureaucracies of affordable housing were stifling. “So we started looking for an advocate,” said Summers, “someone who knew how to operate in this system.”

They finally found the Spokane Center for Independent Living, which supports people with disabilities to lead independent lives. A representative there helped them get Gary a free cell phone, and she was able to connect them to a low-income apartment complex. They put Gary on the waiting list for a studio apartment.

The staff even helped Gary with his bills. One big bill was from a recent dentist’s appointment. “We spoke with the dentist and he forgave most of his bill,” said Summers. “And we all contributed the rest.” And they got Gary set up to receive food stamps to keep him from going hungry.

In just a couple weeks, on October 2, Gary will move into his new apartment. Meals on Wheels serves free lunches at the new apartment complex five days a week, which will help Gary’s food stamps last a little longer.

The team at Spokane Media is already rounding up family and friends with trucks to help Gary with the move. “He doesn’t have much furniture,” said Summers, “just a couple broken down chairs, a mattress, and a TV. So we’re going to find him some furnishings for his new home.”

As not-for-profit cooperatives, Spokane Media and other credit unions are uniquely positioned to provide this kind of attention to their members.

“My staff saw a member in need and responded with fierce determination and a whole lot of heart,” said Debie Keesee, CEO of Spokane Media. “They have truly given our member a whole new lease on life. This is why I love being a credit union person—this story epitomizes the credit union difference and the lengths credit unions will go to help their members.”

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

Questions about this story? Contact James Pearson: 206.340.4790, jpearson@nwcua.org.

Posted in Article Post.