In 1988, Ming Luk wanted to start a printing business in San Francisco’s Chinatown to support his young family. He had experience – he had worked in the printing industry in his native Hong Kong –but without any savings, banks wouldn’t take a chance on his business idea. Then he met Lily Lo, a manager of a new community credit union called Northeast Community Federal Credit Union. As part of a culturally competent, Chinatown-based credit union, Ms. Lo believed in Mr. Luk’s ability to pay back the loan. Which he did, more than once, as his business, Tin Shing Printing, grew. “Investing in small businesses gives back to the community,” says Ms. Lo. “Because as the business grows, it strengthens families and their futures.”
Northeast Community Federal Credit Union was founded in 1981 by community members who recognized a problem: Chinatown had no shortage of banks, but many community members without savings were shut out from borrowing and saving because they couldn’t meet the banks’ burdensome requirements, like a high minimum deposit. That’s where the credit union stepped in – to help people left out of the banking system – by offering free savings accounts that required only $25 to open, as well as small personal loans. Slowly, but surely, they helped their customers in Chinatown save, borrow, and build their credit history and small businesses.
Since 2009, the San Francisco Foundation has invested a portion of its Bay Area Community Impact Fund into Northeast Community Federal Credit Union. The Fund makes long-term, low-interest loans to local organizations, and also shorter-term, mission-aligned investments, such as insured deposits in local community banks and credit unions. “We know that our deposit is being put to work with families and businesses that would otherwise not have access to credit, like Tin Shing Printing,” says Mark Doherty, SFF’s Senior Director of Investments.
Forty years later, the credit union continues to operate as a member-owned, federally-insured, Community Development Credit Union operating out of two branches – one in Chinatown and the other in the Tenderloin. It continues to serve customers who can’t access conventional banks and helps them build their assets and improve their credit history.
Today, Mr. Luk’s daughter and son in law manage Tin Shing Printing. Although their business has shrunk during COVID, they’ve been able to retain their five staff members to serve their local clients in need of printing business cards, menus, calendars and wedding invitations. “With the loan from the credit union, we were able to support our dream, and our families,” says his daughter, Jennifer.
The foundation’s Bay Area Community Impact Fund uses foundation and donor capital to make investments in our communities. For more information about investing in the fund, please call (415) 733-8590 or email donorservices[at]sff.org.