One bank may not be able to single-handedly zero out hunger, homelessness, poverty, illness and isolation, but PeoplesBank, based in York County, did not let the magnitude of those problems deter them from trying.
As part of the bank’s 150th anniversary celebration, the bank named for its customers reached out to their communities to conquer their most intransigent problems–one person, one good deed at a time.
The joyful reactions they received proved the words of the immortal Aesop: “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”
To celebrate a century and a half of service as a financial institution born in the turbulent Civil War days, the leaders decided to give to the community who gave to them.
They launched a “Pay $150 Forward” campaign and allowed randomly selected citizens to give $150 to anyone they saw in need. They created a big buzz and a benevolent wave in the community.
The recipients of the surprise cash were varied, but they were universally the same in their awe and appreciation.
“We saw this as a way to engage the community in a unique way, beyond traditional marketing efforts,” said Nathan Eifert, Vice President/Director of Marketing for PeoplesBank. “We wanted to involve the community, because without the community, we wouldn’t be here.”
Bank officials roved the streets of York, and venues such as the Markets of Shrewsbury and York’s Central Market with a bouquet of gold balloons, a video camera, and cash as they staged their “ambushes.”
The all-season Santa Clauses gifted 10 awards in the summer and three over the holidays in 2014. The givers either hopped in a van with bank representatives or met them at their chosen destination.
Then the giving began:
- Gina Sullivan and her husband Sean paid for tanks of gas for unsuspecting drivers.
- Kurt and Tracey Miller honored the Memorial Day holiday by giving the money to a veteran.
- Joanne Colyer gave money away at a yard sale.
- Thandi Dlodo visited the YWCA of York County on her lunch break to hand over her cash.
- Joseph Renbowski and his fellow fire department volunteers surprised their neighbors at the Heritage Senior Center.
- Dustin Boeckel stopped at the local pharmacy and left money to pay for customers’ prescriptions.
- Rebecca Swanson went to the supermarket and bought food for the Stewartstown Elementary School food pantry.
- Mark Devenney bought lunch for a group of diners, including a cluster of servicemen.
- David Wendel went to the Make-a-Wish office and donated the money toward granting a sick child’s wish.
- Patti Joe Dietz donated to Project Linus, which makes blankets for children in the hospital.
- Vlonda Kearse and Adrienne Brandon from Cornerstone Baptist Church donated to the York Rescue Mission.
- Jennifer Gerz gave her $150 to Christ Lutheran Church to support their food bank and child care services.
- Stan Escher stopped by a local store to drop his money into the local Salvation Army donation bucket.
Each encounter was videotaped, condensed into a three-minute video, and posted to Youtube and the bank’s Facebook page for an instant inspirational high. (PeoplesBank1864.)
“They were extremely grateful. A lot of people got really emotional,” said Heather Delp, PeoplesBank’s Communications and Digital Media Administrator. “We touched many lives in a positive way.”
Many recipients of the money looked confused or wore faces of disbelief, but when they realized they were being given “free money,” it was like they had won the grand prize on The Price is Right.
The Pay $150 Forward campaign won PeoplesBank a 2014 Keystone Award, as well as a PACB 2015 Grow Your Community Award, according to Nick DiFrancesco, President of PACB.
The bank also sponsors a “Care to Share “ program, in which they give Visa gift cards three or four times a year to employees to share with others.
And for these employees, bankers’ hours extend far beyond 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We are heavily involved in so many different organizations,” Eifert said.
And the commitment is not just financial. “Our time and expertise is devoted to many boards and organizations in the community. Our employees serve as coaches, board members, United Way volunteers, church council leaders and more. We consider it our responsibility as a community bank.”
Through the state’s popular Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC), the bank contributed $700,000 to foundations and nonprofits in 2015. Eifert notes that the bank spends more on such community support – such as sponsorships and contributions – than it does in advertising.
The employees also helped to build a home for a family in Spring Grove, Pa., through York’s Habitat for Humanity, banging nails and screwing in drywall to build a house that rapidly became a home for a deserving family.
The bank serves central Pennsylvania and part of northern Maryland, via 24 financial centers spanning York and Cumberland Counties in Pennsylvania and Baltimore, Harford, and Carroll Counties in Maryland.
It is the latest chapter in a storied narrative that dates back to Civil War days in a farm-dotted region that has played a leading role on the world stage, dating back to the American Revolution.
The Articles of Confederation were adopted in York by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. Local government and business leaders began referring to York in the 1960s as the first capital of the United States of America. The designation has been debated by historians ever since. Congress considered York, along the sparkling Susquehanna River, as a permanent capital of the United States before Washington, D.C., was selected.
From those long-ago days, the bank has grown exponentially and adapted to the times. The bank just opened a “limited service facility” amidst the stately buildings and pristine gardens and ponds of Masonic Village in Elizabethtown. They serve many individuals in retirement communities, from retirement cottages to full nursing facilities.
The bank opened its doors right before the Battle of Gettysburg, on June 1, 1864. They are located right by the Mason-Dixon line, the line of demarcation between a host of surrounding states, and 30 miles from the fateful, expansive battlefields of Gettysburg, where Lincoln uttered his famed address.
The bank began with only $50,000 in capital. Fast forward to today, with its $1.4 billion in assets.
In between, it survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, the world wars, the Great Recession, and hurricanes and floods, to become the largest independent financial institution headquartered in York County.
Through times of war and peace, prosperity and poverty, sun and storm, we “stayed true to community bank values,” Eifert said.
“We live, work and play in the community. Our secret to success is knowing the needs of the community and responding to those needs,” he added.
They have witnessed a slow march of mergers and acquisitions and have gained new business as a result. Clients tend to seek out their local community bank after the big banks devour their competitors, Eifert said.
The bank’s goals for the future are to continue to expand their franchise and their product and service offerings, he continued.
Although they will always keep abreast of technology and expand such New Age innovations as e-services, they know the importance of old-fashioned face-to-face contact.
“We will remain true to the communities we serve,” Eifert said. “We will still provide funds to small businesses and mortgages to families.”
President and CEO Larry J. Miller agreed. “For over 150 years, PeoplesBank has been committed to helping local businesses grow, our neighbors succeed, and our communities become a better place to live and work.”
“At PeoplesBank, we feel very fortunate to be part of a community that cares about its friends and neighbors, and that’s why we are dedicated to generously sharing our resources to help those in need. Our ‘Pay $150 Forward’ campaign represents our belief in the spirit of giving and demonstrates how a few kind acts can touch the lives of many.”
As one grateful cash recipient said at a local flea market, “PeoplesBank rocks!”
The bank does not want to just be a home for money; they want to be a “difference maker.”
They are living out the principles of the U.S. President who led the warring nation when the bank was born and intoned these words at Gettysburg: “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”