Over the past several months, community banks across the country have distinguished themselves through their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community banks are essential to support growing, thriving communities. Now more than ever, as our country reopens and begins to recover from the devastation caused by COVID-19, bank customers and communities need the personal service and responsiveness that are the hallmarks of community banking.

Most banks across our markets have taken steps to help protect the health and safety of our communities while maintaining access to banking services. Banks have been forced to change the way in which they operate, but bankers and customers have adapted and are still able to conduct business.

Community banks have been very adept at modifying their operating procedures to meet the specific needs of their customers.

Because community banking is defined by relationships, many community banks have focused on taking care of their employees. Actions include:

Emergency paid leave. Additional paid time off is available to employees who are unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19.

Appreciation bonuses. Branch personnel and support staff whose responsibilities do not permit them to work remotely have been awarded special bonuses for their service.

Redeploying employees. To assist with initiatives such as the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), certain employees have been transitioned to new roles and responsibilities.

Likewise, many banks have taken steps to provide relief to customers affected by COVID-19. Payment deferrals, as well as new loan programs like the PPP, have played a critical role in helping businesses weather this storm. Bankers throughout the Lowcountry worked tirelessly to assist borrowers with their PPP loan requests.

Community banks, in particular, played a tremendous role in helping to deploy PPP funds. Many customers discovered just how valuable a personal relationship with a community banker could be through this process.

Finally, many community banks have also stepped up to provide meaningful financial assistance to the communities they serve. Tens of thousands of dollars in grants have been disbursed to charitable organizations around the Lowcountry that are assisting members of our community who have lost their jobs and need assistance.

Community involvement and charitable giving are hallmarks of community banking and, through strong local leadership, those banks can respond quickly to local needs.

Diana McDougall is the Lowcountry Regional President for CoastalStates Bank.