Page 26 - BusinessWest January 20, 2021
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 responders in the community. “I told them, ‘I’m not sure what’s Massachusetts, among others.
“A lot of those are things we haven’t done every year,” Welch said, noting that the credit union’s philanthropic contributions were up 17% from 2019 to 2020, even though it was a tougher financial year for financial institutions.
It’s a story being told across the region — not that banks and credit unions are being more generous this year (although, in many cases, they are), but that the pandemic has revealed different needs, causing a shift in where those grants are being targeted.
In September, for instance, the Berkshire Bank Foundation contrib-
going to happen, but we need to support the community.’ The board agreed and allocated a chunk of money that we could utilize in the
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our local communities in ways that no one could have predicted, and the economic impact has created sig- nificant challenges for organizations who help so many every day,” said Jim Hickson, Berkshire Bank’s Pioneer Val- ley regional president.
The foundation’s grants have sup- ported community-based organiza- tions in the areas of housing, food security, health supplies, student aid, small-business assistance — all needs that have been heightened by a pan- demic whose impacts will continue to be felt well into 2021.
First Response
Some of the earliest contributions from banks and credit unions, at the start of the pandemic, were targeted to hospitals and first responders. Country Bank donated $250,000 to four local hospitals, and also gave $50,000 to the Hampden County Sheriff’s Depart- ment’s First Responder Recovery Home, which provided a safe haven for doctors, nurses, EMTs, police, fire- fighters, and corrections professionals who were diagnosed with COVID-19, but couldn’t safely go home to recover without jeopardizing the health of a vulnerable family member.
As the pandemic evolved and other nonprofits began reshaping their mis- sions to respond to it, Country Bank directed funds to organizations like the Community Foundation of West- ern Massachusetts, Springfield Rescue Mission, and Friends of the Homeless, as well as similar organizations in the Worcester area.
PeoplesBank’s charitable giving in 2020 surpassed its previous record high, totaling $1,300,000, and ben- efiting 292 different nonprofits in the region. While the long-standing fund- ing priorities of PeoplesBank include education, community vibrancy, and environmental sustainability, support in 2020 also included donations to COVID-19 emergency relief funds, pur- chases of PPE for frontline responders, organizations fighting food insecurity and homelessness, and many area youth groups and early-childhood edu- cation centers.
“We try to say ‘no’ as infrequently as possible,” said Matt Bannister, the bank’s senior vice president of Market- ing and Corporate Responsibility — even though last year’s needs definitely widened, especially considering that many nonprofits gain much of their funding from annual events that never happened.
“When the COVID hit the fan, we said to all our nonprofits we had agree- ments with, ‘we are going to honor all our commitments, even if you can’t hold your gala or your walk. The mon- ey’s still yours,’” Bannister said.
“The event may go away, but the
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      uted an additional $1 million — over its $3 million total annual grant budget — to collaborative efforts supporting nonprofit organizations responding
to rising community needs, including MHA, the YMCA of Greater Springfield, Western Massachusetts SCORE, and the Community Foundation of Western
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