On Kauai, a tiny credit union lifted a heavy load: Helping hundreds of businesses stay afloat

On Kauai, a tiny credit union lifted a heavy load: Helping hundreds of businesses stay afloat

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Throughout the pandemic, the Kauai Government Employees Federal Credit Union has been there for small businesses.

CEO Monica Belz said the tiny bank stepped up big time.

“We really just positioned ourselves to say, ‘Let’s work with the community. Let’s figure out how to access these funds, and let’s get it out to Kauai as soon as possible,’” she said.

Aid came through a small business boost program, rent relief and emergency loans. Partnering with other organizations, KGEFCU distributed about $11 million.

“That really helped the business owners just take a breath of fresh air, and say, ‘I can at least just get through this next month. I can at least make my rent payment,’” Belz said.

The credit union even infused capital into small business startups.

Justine Bender opened her online company, Ekahi Ahi, in the midst of the pandemic.

“They provided me with an opportunity to use grant money that I never would have had and keep it local. I got marketing supplies and everything I needed to get my business going in a time when it was really tough,” she said.

Belz estimates the credit union helped more than 300 small businesses navigate the COVID crisis, including gaining access to the federal Payroll Protection Program.

“They weren’t able to get into the really busy banks. So they came to us, honestly, lots of them in tears just begging for help,” she said.

The small credit union in Lihue has a reputation for helping during disasters. It pitched in during the floods that swamped Kauai in 2018.

“Our mission is to strengthen the social fabric of Kauai,” Belz said. “It always been about the community, 100%.”

KGEFCU is owned by about 7,000 Kauai residents. It focuses on helping distressed and under-served communities. During COVID, the community centered credit union has been a lifesaver.

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