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Hank Collins' legacy of good works pays dividends

The newest bank in town won't make you rich — at least in the usual sense — but it will pay huge dividends in the community at large.

"Hank's Bank" has no staff, no office and there's no free checking. Every dollar you "deposit" is a fully tax-deductible contribution that will be given to people who need a little extra cash to avert a catastrophe.

The "bank" was organized as a tribute to Hank Collins, Jackson County's former health and human services director, who died in February. Collins met lots of folks who needed help in his work, and he was known to use his own money to help someone out of a jam.

"If somebody needed a bike, or couldn't afford a bus ticket home, he'd dig into his own pocket," said Sue Slack, a former Jackson County administrator who knew Collins during the 20 years he managed the county's social service programs.

"He was always doing things for people that made a big difference in their lives."

The idea for the bank came from Dee Anne Everson, director of United Way of Jackson County, who also worked with Collins for years. She suggested using the donations that had been made to United Way in his memory to provide small sums of money to individuals and families facing a crisis.

Everson said last week that the discretionary funds that were formerly available from social service agencies to solve those problems have largely disappeared. The need, however, has increased as the economy sinks into the deepest recession in decades.

Small sums can make a huge difference to families living close to the edge, Everson said.

"A simple problem can lead to a cascading series of events that ends up with a family not being housed," she explained.

The bank will work like this: People who have an urgent need that can be solved with a small sum of money must first contact their church or a social service agency. Genuine requests for assistance will be forwarded to the "bank board" — Everson, Slack, Ida Saito of La Clinica, and Cydne Collins, Hank's widow. They'll determine how to distribute the money.

"We'll try to react as quickly as we can," Everson said.

She stressed that the bank will consider only requests for small sums, probably not more than about $250.

"It's really intended to be small amounts to stave off an immediate need," she said.

Cydne Collins said the bank is a fitting memorial for her husband.

"He was a very, very generous man," she said. "He felt good about the work he was doing."

The bank's capital of several thousand dollars won't last long, given current needs. Collins said she and her colleagues will keep track of where the money goes and report back to the community, with the hope that they can collect more "deposits" to help others in need.

"It's a way to carry on Hank's memory and the work that he did," Slack said. "Hank's Bank will help keep people fed and clothed and warm and dry.

"I wish we could tell him we were doing this."

Tax-deductible contributions to Hank's Bank can be made to United Way of Jackson County. To donate online, visit www.mailtribune.com/hanksbank. Checks may be made to "United Way — Hank's Bank," and sent to United Way of Jackson County, 711 E. Main St., Suite 17, Medford, OR 97504. Contributions can also be made with a credit card by calling the United Way office at 773-5339.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

Hank Collins' legacy of good works pays dividends