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North Bay financial institutions step up to help those affected by Kincade Fire, blackouts

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In the wake of the damage wrought by the Kincade Fire and the associated blackouts, communities across the North Bay came together to help neighbors and friends stay safe and carry on with their lives.

And that includes the business community.

Many banking and financial institutions, among others, have sought to make it easier for customers — individuals and other businesses — to return to normalcy by donating money as well as offering favorable rates on different products to help people get back on their feet.

Here is how some North Bay banks and financial institutions have stepped up to the plate.

American AgCredit

American AgCredit has operations in Sonoma County and provides farmer and rancher financing. The financial service provider committed $100,000 in total assistance, with $25,000 going to each of four North Bay groups.

American AgCredit committed cash to the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, whose relief fund is working to provide hay, feed and other livestock supplies to affected farmers. They also plan to give to the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation, whose fund is providing direct support to local vineyard workers and their families impacted by the fire.

Redwood Empire Food Bank and the American AgCredit Employee Relief Fund, which supports company employees impacted by the fires, will also see donations.

“In times like these the agricultural community always steps up to support each other,” said American AgCredit CEO Byron Enix in a statement. “It’s heartwarming to see lifelong relationships shine through in times of need and American AgCredit is one of many to offer support to impacted customers and the local agricultural community.”

Redwood Credit Union

The Santa Rosa-based financial services nonprofit cooperative’s support has focused on members, employees and the community at large.

Redwood opened its main offices as evacuation centers for employees, their families, and even their pets, offering on-site daycare as well. The firm used air scrubbers at branches and affected locations to improve air quality and also allowed employees to work remotely until the fire and related outages had passed. Redwood also gave out free meals to employees and paid lost wages to employees due to the disasters.

Air purifiers at branches also benefitted members and Redwood used generator power to keep operations running and create some normalcy. According to the company, at one point nine branches were on generator power.

Financial assistance programs for impacted credit union members also included 0% interest loans up to $5,000 for urgent needs, discounted loans for autos, trailers and RVs for those who lost vehicles or housing in the fires, and automatic increases of credit and debit card limits to help deal with recovery expenses.

Redwood also reimbursed out-of-network ATM fees so members who had evacuated out of the fire area could get cash and processed direct deposits a day early to give members quicker access to their money. RCU also offered some loan and credit card payment relief, and overdraft and late fee reversals.

For the community at large, Redwood provided a generator to the Sonoma County Office of Emergency Services to operate a water-treatment plant, and purchased supplies to support around 800 evacuees in areas shelters.

Food has a way of bringing people together and making them feel restored and RCU partnered with a local pizza restaurant to supply free meals to nearly 300 evacuees and first responders as well as providing a tri-tip dinner at a family-appreciation event for 150 first responders and their families. Another 150 low-income housing residents who were evacuated got the same treatment.

Exchange Bank

Santa Rosa-based Exchange Bank is funding local nonprofits and charities that focus on food and housing to help with Kincade fire relief efforts according to Troy Sanderson, the bank’s EVP and chief banking officer.

Exchange Bank has developed loan servicing and credit options to help customers and the broader community recover from the destruction wrought by the Kincade fire. “Customers that experienced a financial hardship due to loss of property, property damage, displaced residence or temporary loss of employment were offered 90-day payment deferment,” according to Sanderson.

The bank has also created a disaster relief resource page with FAQs and emergency support resources.

He added the bank created a Rebuild Loan Program in 2017 with “a variety of financing options to address the immediate needs of the community, which we continue to offer.”

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo & Company previously announced a $400,000 donation from the Wells Fargo Foundation to aid in the state’s relief efforts as well as accommodations for affected customers, team members and others.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of California who are impacted by wildfires across the state,” said Brandee McHale, head of the Wells Fargo Foundation, in a statement. “Wells Fargo is committed to supporting relief efforts for those who are being displaced or who have lost homes, as well as for those who are vigilantly trying to save people, homes and land.”

The donation will be divided between nonprofits supporting those affected by the Kincade fire and the Getty fire in Los Angeles. According to a press release, $300,000 will go to local organizations in support of relief efforts for the Kincade fire and $100,000 will go to local organizations for Getty fire assistance.

Wells Fargo also made it possible to donate to the American Red Cross through its banking applications and said it is proactively reversing Wells Fargo fees for impacted customers using non-Wells Fargo ATMs.

Bank of America

“With hundreds of employees and thousands of customers and partners across the North Bay, we understand firsthand the devastating impact that natural and manmade disasters can have on communities, businesses and lives,” wrote Colleen Haggerty, senior vice president of media relations at Bank of America, in an email.

“As we monitor the impacts during and following the wildfires, evacuations, air-quality issues and scheduled power outages, we proactively communicate with clients and employees about immediate and longer-term resources available to them should they need support.”

Haggerty said for bank customers, this includes assistance like fee refunds and loan repayment options as part of the bank’s Client Assistance Program.

“For employees, our Employee Relief Fund provides grants to help cover the costs of immediate needs; and for additional needs, the bank’s Life Event Services team provides access to support and resources ranging from counseling and back-up child or adult care to financial assistance,” Haggerty added.

For impacted North Bay communities, Haggerty said the bank has a partnership with the American Red Cross, and provides grants and employee volunteer support to local nonprofits like Redwood Empire Food Bank to help with the increased demand on them because of the outages and fires.

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