Holding true in tough times

Ridgewood Window Painting

Window paintings on a Maspeth Federal Savings Bank branch paid tribute to local essential workers amid the pandemic.

When New York City was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maspeth Federal Savings Bank responded with a community-focused campaign that helped save local businesses and improve the lives of essential workers.

By Ed Avis

When COVID-19 struck New York, the marketing staff of Maspeth Federal Savings Bank in Queens hit the brakes on their work.

“We wanted to be sensitive in terms of how we were marketing to the community,” says Christina Zanca, vice president and marketing director for the $2 billion-asset community bank. “But we wanted to show the community that we were not backing down. At a time when everyone was budget conscious and pulling back, we wanted to show that we were going full steam ahead with our charitable giving. So, my team and I put our heads together to try to do something as creative and valuable as possible.”

What they dreamed up was a program that benefited the local community without seeming overly promotional. At the time, Queens was the global epicenter of the pandemic, and thousands of small business owners and workers saw their livelihoods turned upside down.

To respond to the turmoil, Maspeth Federal Savings Bank’s Community Grant Campaign–Help Us Give Back provided cash, gift cards and personal protective equipment to first responders, essential workers and small businesses affected by the pandemic.

Zanca and her team didn’t have to start from scratch; the community bank had an existing charitable giving program. Over the previous two years, that program had twice solicited nominations from the local community for grants to the area’s teachers and small businesses.

“I think the community is very thoughtful about the nominations,” Zanca says. “Some are really heart-wrenching. We like that the community is really the voice of these campaigns.”

Building on that experience, Maspeth Federal launched their Community Grant Campaign–Help Us Give Back with a digital campaign that solicited nominations for businesses and individuals dealing with COVID-related situations. The community bank promised 10 prizes of $1,000 each to businesses and 25 prizes of $250 gift cards, plus two KN95 masks, to people on the front lines of the pandemic.

“[A business owner] told us she had decided to reopen in our community. It’s great to see the impact that we could have.”
—Christina Zanca, Maspeth Federal Savings Bank

Saving local businesses

The community loved the idea, and more than 2,000 nominations poured in. “The response was great,” Zanca says. “So many people know Maspeth Federal and know that it’s always community-first in terms of how we operate. I think they expected a campaign like this from us and valued that we held true to who we are even during the tough times.”

The nominations ranged from restaurants closed by the virus to heroic first responders working double shifts. Zanca says they read each nomination carefully and a committee selected the winners, which senior management helped to select.

Among the winners was a woman who had to shut down her yoga studio. She promised to use her $1,000 to restart the business once that was feasible, and recently made good on that promise.

“A couple of weeks ago, she told us she had decided to reopen in our community,” Zanca says. “It’s great to see the impact that we could have.”

Among other business winners of the program was Ma King Thai, a newly opened restaurant that made food for area hospitals and set up a table with free servings of pad thai for customers who could not afford it. Another was Our Lady of Mercy Church, which offered food and money to people in need and held virtual masses. The family-owned Prince Umberto’s pizzeria donated 4,000 meals and made other contributions despite several family members having COVID-19.

Lifting up the community

The stories of the individual winners were equally inspiring.

Patricia T., a nurse, went back to work three days after recovering from the virus; residential aide Lonnie C. worked double shifts with people with mental and physical illnesses; and paramedic Alexander L. volunteered for local organizations while maintaining his stressful job.

“A lot of the nominees had the same pain points everyone was having: loss of income, loss of jobs, first responders giving back to the community,” Zanca says. “We knew businesses were suffering the most, but we knew individuals were suffering as well.”

The program generated congratulatory phone calls, social media commentary and articles in local publications, but ultimately it was just one part of Maspeth Federal’s pandemic response. The community bank also partnered with local delis and grocers to provide meals to staff and first responders; it donated personal protective equipment to local organizations; and it partnered with Splashes of Hope, a group that paints murals for children’s hospitals.

“We did way more in the community than just the grant campaign,” Zanca says, adding that their campaign touched people in a direct way at the most difficult of times. “People were crying when they got the call from us.”

Ed Avis is a writer in Illinois.