How Are Credit Unions Like An Oasis?

Today’s Food Day is a good time to reflect on cooperatives’ responsibility to reach the driest financial markets.


Today is Food Day, a grassroots movement to “bring together Americans from all walks of life … to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.”

One of the movement’s six principles is to expand access to food and end hunger. The credit union analogy? Credit unions can expand access to affordable, responsible financial services to combat poverty.

In the U.S., Food Day calls for us to tackle so-called “food deserts,” or areas where citizens have little access to fresh food. Community Development Financial Institutions like ASI Federal Credit Union ($302M, New Orleans, LA) are teaming with community organizations to help eradicate food deserts. In September, ASI Federal received a $3 million grant to offer low-interest loans to grocers to expand or improve their inventory of fresh foods and to allow new grocery stories to open in low-income and underserved areas.

In Chicago, an organization called Fresh Moves is also doing something. They’ve created a “mobile produce market” out of a remodeled and converted Chicago Transit Authority bus to bring fresh food to Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood twice a week. The idea sprung from a group of community activists motivated by a report that mapped out Chicago’s food deserts.

Again, what does this have to do with credit unions? The Food Day effort is a great analogy for what some credit unions are doing to deliver financial services directly to their members’ doors. Palisades Federal Credit Union ($152M, Pearl River, NY) deployed a true mobile branch in early 2010. PFCU One is a branch-on-wheels with a teller window, two small offices, and a satellite link to the credit union’s core processor. It offers the same products and services (with the exception of traveler’s checks or gift cards) that members will find at any PFCU location. The co-op unveiled the vehicle at a federally subsidized community event for the elderly and disabled.