CUs Aid Ridgecrest Community in Earthquakes’ Aftermath

Desert Valleys FCU is sending its mobile branch to Trona, CA every day to serve members who need on-the-spot services after being impacted by recent earthquakes.
Desert Valleys FCU is sending its mobile branch to Trona, CA every day to serve members who need on-the-spot services after being impacted by recent earthquakes.

Credit unions operating in the greater Ridgecrest, CA vicinity remained busy on Monday and Tuesday as they gauged the destructive aftermath of two huge earthquakes and responded to members and residents in need.

“Right now, it’s about giving people a little peace of mind,” said Eric Bruen, CEO of Desert Valleys FCU. “Our community is worried about everything around them, and if we can give them some financial peace of mind, we’re doing our job.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if all credit unions in the region had members affected by the 6.4 and 7.1-magnitude tremors on July 4 and 5. But by the weekend, Desert Valleys—one of two main credit unions serving the broader area out of 10 that are locally headquartered within Inyo and Kern counties—had already sprang into action.

The credit union’s Desert Valleys Employee Foundation was activated to receive donations from those in the credit union system and local community who feel compelled to contribute, with funds going directly to individuals and families who need help the most.

“We’ve raised 1,570 dollars,” Bruen said as of Monday evening. “We’re immediately putting some of this to work with relief supplies requested today, which included diapers, wipes, powdered milk, peanut butter, protein snacks, peroxide, bandages, gauze, tape, batteries, flashlights, propane gas, lanterns, ethanol fuel packs, pots, paper plates, and peanut M&M's.”

Both earthquakes and dozens of sizeable aftershocks heavily impacted nearby Trona, CA, although places such as Lone Pine, Inyokern, California City, and Boron weren't immune from the disaster's path. The Ridgecrest area is in California’s “high desert” region about 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

Bruen said those suffering the most are residents and credit union members living in modular and manufactured homes where foundations or building strength was compromised. Some families have no access to electricity, natural gas or running water and are camping in remote areas with limited supplies. First aid, food, water and other living/cooking resources are pouring in from local agencies and organizations.

“The credit union itself is good—we’re up and running at full strength,” Bruen said. “But the bottom line is, we have members and non-members that were impacted. Our mission is to serve our community, especially in times like this.”

Desert Valleys is also offering a $1,000 loan for 90 days at 5-percent interest (and a one-payment option)—short-term assistance for members to purchase groceries, medicine, offset other costs, and make their homes are safe for living while waiting for insurance monies. By Monday evening, nearly 30 members had applied for the loan. The credit union expects more applicants in the coming days.

The city’s other main credit union is AltaOne FCU, headquartered a couple of miles down the main thoroughfare. As soon as the magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit, the credit union's advance team comprised of CEO Pam Easley, SVP Denise Mattice, Director of IT Amer Hameed, IT Infrastructure Mike Dawson, Director of Office of the President Steve Linman, Security Manager Brandi Harrell, Facilities Coordinator Nick Whisnant, and Communications Director Jon Urbano, along with Senior Manager for Loss Mitigation Brian Bennette, went into action to ensure that key systems and facilities were sound, and that communications to the community and credit union employees were prepared and disseminated swiftly. The same team did the same after the magnitude 7.1 quake hit a day later. 

"We truly had heroes during this time," Easley said, “We accounted for our employees quickly, despite the holiday, identifying those who had special needs or were hardest hit." 

The credit union's facilities teams inspected the buildings while the credit union's IT teams tested systems and networks for soundness to ensure that operations could continue the next business day which was the very next day, Saturday. 

“Like our local community, the credit union industry is a very close-knit, caring team. We've had an outpouring of support from our credit union family and our League", said Mattice.

Credit union members came to the branch Saturday morning when the branch opened from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. after volunteer staff came in to clean up minor breakage and debris, while ensuring the branch was safe to conduct business. 

"Community is at the heart of AltaOne's more than 70-year legacy within the Ridgecrest and China Lake areas," Easley said. "As we saw more than 70 years ago, our community continues to work together during a very difficult time. We know that the coming weeks will reveal more about the needs of our members and our community. The AltaOne team looks forward to working with those needs, demonstrating how AltaOne cares. To meet the needs of our neighbors and the communities that have supported us for so long is at the core of our mission as a key community partner, and one we take very seriously."

Other locally headquartered credit unions serving nearly 315,000 members in Kern and Inyo counties are Bakersfield City Employees, Edwards, Espeeco, High Sierra, Kern Schools, Mojave Plant Employees, Safe 1, and Strata. Some members live more regionally than locally and may be affected depending on their proximity to the earthquakes.

Even the largest credit union in the United States—Navy FCU—serves many members in the Ridgecrest region. Many of them work at the naval weapons station, which is one site maintaining the U.S. Navy’s research, development and testing of weapons systems for warfighter jets.

Bruen said the community is bracing for another earthquake in the coming days or weeks. “Many of us aren’t putting anything back on shelves; everything is staying on the floor,” he said. The region’s tremors were severely felt in Bakersfield, Lancaster, and Victorville (up to a 115-mile radius) and even as far as San Diego, Sacramento, and Las Vegas, NV.

Desert Valleys will be sending its mobile branch to Trona every day to serve members who need on-the-spot services, and it will also haul supplies to local residents when possible. The foundation’s contributions will be used toward grants for homeowners who need significant repairs and other assistance.

“Money donations here and there go a long way,” he added, referring to the foundation’s initiative. “If you talk to anybody in Ridgecrest, you’ll hear about more than just the internal damage on their homes. When you get hit twice like we did, and with the number of aftershocks that kept coming, it hits people emotionally. We want to get these people back to as much of a normal life as possible.”


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