LEE — After making a record amount of contributions to Berkshire nonprofits during 2020, Lee Bank has created its own foundation to continue and manage its charitable giving.
The Lee Bank Foundation, which is up and running, was funded with $5 million from Berkshire Financial Services, the community bank’s parent company.
The goal is to provide 5 percent of that sum, or $250,000, annually in foundation grants to nonprofits throughout the Berkshires that are helping to close the opportunity gap. Branch-based sponsorships will provide an additional $70,000 to these community organizations.
“Our goal both near and long term going forward is really to be more active in Berkshire County and invest more in Berkshire County across the board,” said Chuck Leach, the bank’s president and CEO. “And this is one element of that.”
Berkshire Financial Services in August sold the other institution in its portfolio, Freedom National Bank in Rhode Island, and now plans to focus on the Berkshires, Leach said.
“There’s a number of different initiatives that we’ll be working on, and this is just one of them,” Leach said, referring to the foundation. “It just really seemed to fit and mesh post-COVID. But, even without COVID, I think this is the path we would have embarked on.”
Lee Bank typically sets aside at least 5 percent of its annual net income to support area nonprofits.
That sum has risen in recent years, from $120,000 in 2018 to $145,000 in 2019 to $179,000 last year.
Last year’s donations included $50,000 to Berkshire County’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. The bank has supported more than 200 programs and organizations, aiding community-based nonprofits like Greenagers, Community Access to the Arts, the Berkshire Humane Society and the Berkshire Immigrant Center.
“It does cast a pretty wide net,” Leach said. He said the bank intends to assist organizations that help families and children “whose eyes haven’t been opened to the opportunities that are out there. They just need a little lift.”
The bank, founded as Lee Savings Bank in 1852, operates five branches, in Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, Pittsfield and Stockbridge. The bank never has had its own foundation before.
The foundation will be housed at the Marble House, a former residential property at 102 Park St., in Lee that the bank purchased in 2018. It recently was renovated by Allegrone Construction.
The property provides gathering spaces for community groups, bank staff, board meetings and special events. Marble House also will be home to a new financial wellness service, and the bank is hiring employees to run that group.