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CFCU initiatives, member/owner donations make for brighter holidays

‘Ugly Sweater – Santa Cause’ fundraiser, blanket project assist nonprofits, needy

December 31, 2013

Two initiatives that originated with Community First CU employees helped spread holiday cheer among needy individuals and nonprofit organizations throughout Northeastern Wisconsin.

In less than two days just before Christmas, CFCU member-owners helped employees raise more than $7,200 for 15 nonprofit organizations thanks to the inaugural ‘Ugly Sweater – Santa Cause’ fundraiser at all 20 full-service CFCU branches.

Local food pantries, homeless shelters, domestic abuse shelters and animal shelters – causes that are important to our employees and member/owners – were among the chosen beneficiaries.

Earlier in December, Richmond Street branch employees also delivered 40 hand-made fleece blankets plus some knitted white booties to a crisis pregnancy center in Appleton that helps mostly low-income women and families make a choice for life.

Throughout the month, other employees showed their Christmas spirit by volunteering their time to help sort food donations at St. Joseph’s Food Program, count money collected in Salvation Army red kettles and serve meals at a local homeless shelter. Member/owners also donated $3,424 and over 1,000 cans of food for the Gannett Wisconsin Media’s Stock the Shelves challenge.

Ugly sweaters turned beautiful

The idea surrounding Christmas sweaters was started by Manitowoc tellers as a fundraiser for the Lakeshore Humane Society but spread to other branches in a coordinated effort. “The tellers decided it would be fun to wear ugly sweaters and seek to raise money for the shelter,” said Carrie Pleasant, branch manager at Manitowoc, which raised almost $515 plus collected donations of pet food and other items for the shelter. “Members were excited and employees were excited. We more than doubled our goal.”

Each branch got to hand-pick a charity and encouraged member/owners to contribute to the cause.

Donations raised for various nonprofits included: $1,569, Neenah Animal Shelter (by three Neenah branches); $1,358, Fox Valley Humane Society (Darboy, FVTC and Nicolet branches); $705, St. Joe’s Food Pantry (Oneida branch); $582, Bay Area Humane Society (Howard branch); $558, Lakeshore Humane Society (Manitowoc and Two Rivers branches); $547, Fox Valley Emergency Shelter (Richmond branch); $501, Hortonville Food Pantry (Greenville branch); $432, Harbor House (Ballard, Mason branches); $364, Oshkosh Area Humane Society (two Oshkosh branches); $325, Freedom House (De Pere branch); $161, Humane Society of Waupaca (Waupaca branch); $141, Seymour Community Food Pantry (Nichols branch); and $71, S.A.F.E. Stray Animal Fund Endeavor (New London branch).

“That is just amazing,” said Kevin Hartz, CFCU senior vice president/branch operations. “Manitowoc asked to do it on its own. We said, ‘It’s a great idea. Let’s do it company-wide.’ Branches were able to select their own charity so that was a big plus. The CFCU team and membership never fail to help others! A huge ‘Thank You’ goes out to everyone that donated and/or collected donations.”

Upon delivering a check for $705 to St. Joseph’s Food Program just after Christmas from the Ugly Sweater initiative, Cindy Pierce, the Oneida branch manager, said pantry officials were thrilled and grateful for the contributions at a time when they are seeing more families in need of food. “The Monday before Christmas they assisted a record number of families,” Pierce said.
“We at St. Joe’s are so grateful for the wonderful and generous support from the Community First team and members,” said Monica Clare, St. Joe’s executive director. “The food and funds raised are vital to the support of our mission. This work is made possible because of individuals, businesses, and organizations who come together to help their neighbors in need.”

‘Warm and fuzzy’ initiative

The fleece blankets idea actually started as a small craft project by Rachel Johnson, a CFCU teller, involving crocheted blankets to support mothers in need. But, she said, it blossomed into a “warm and fuzzy initiative” involving the entire Richmond Street branch.

Johnson and her colleagues made the blankets for Fox Valley’s Mother & Unborn Baby Care, Inc., a Christ-centered, life-affirming ministry devoted to helping mothers and babies in need through medical assistance, education and emotional support.

“We’ve never gotten this many blankets at one time,” said M.J. Clements, MUBC executive director. “It’s amazing the reaction when you give them these blankets. They’re very touched – it often brings tears to their eyes.”

“I’m a crafter at heart so I wanted to be able to do something that would benefit others,” Johnson said. “There is something special about receiving a blanket that someone took the time to make – it's like receiving a hug from a stranger.”

Becky Davis, Richmond branch manager, said, “Everyone in the branch participated, whether it was buying the material, financial support, attending a blanket-making party hosted by a co-worker, taking the blankets home to tie or washing night at the laundromat in a special (allergen-free) detergent.”

“We were working for a good cause and having fun doing it,” said head teller Lisa Mjos, whose aunt made nine infant size white booties given to women upon finding out they are pregnant. Clements said some women who received booties after a positive pregnancy test later said “they sleep with them under their pillows (hoping) for a healthy baby and some have hung them on their Christmas trees.” She added that the blankets and booties give the women a connection with their babies and comfort knowing “that we’re here to help them and there are people in the community that are willing to help them also.”

Johnson said the blankets and booties represent “a nice little sign of hope. These women that go there, a lot of times they’re kind of scared. They don’t exactly have another place to turn to and it’s really nice to be able to, I guess, celebrate a pregnancy that might otherwise be something that’s difficult.”