Whatcom Cares: Peggy Onustack praised as a vocal advocate for nonprofits

An anonymous Whatcom Cares nomination for Peggy Onustack called her “a community-building powerhouse,” adding that “Peggy inspires everyone she meets to reach higher, take risks and stand up for what they believe in.”

Onustack, a vice president and district manager of peninsula district at US Bank in Bellingham, has served twice on the board of the United Way of Whatcom County, where volunteers say she is a vocal advocate for nonprofits.

“A long time ago, I realized that our community is only as strong as the people who live in it,” Onustack said. “We all need to invest in our community if we want to have a strong place to live and raise our kids. It really is up to us. I personally believe that Whatcom County has been good to me, and I believe you should pay it back and pay it forward.”

Peter Theisen, president and CEO of the United Way of Whatcom County, praised Onustack’s strong leadership skills in fundraising and said her advice was invaluable during the Great Recession.

“She helped position the United Way to do well in a difficult time,” Theisen said. “She is the heart and soul of US Bank in terms of reaching out to the community. She’s made it her personal quest to get her co-workers to reach out. She tries to make a difference in the places where she lives and works.”

In terms of being a model, she’s not afraid to take a difficult position and be willing to fight strongly for something that she believes in. “I think people respect that,” Theisen said.

Outside her work with the United Way, Onustack has headed school supply drives at the Holly Street branch where she’s based, conducted food drives at work, and even let herself be submerged in a dunk tank for a United Way workplace event where the agency distributes literature and makes a pitch for employee contributions.

“If people attended the meeting, they got to toss a ball,” Onustack said. “If they gave at a certain level, they got to toss a ball.”

Lately, Onustack has focused her efforts on providing more support for homeless people. She believes that homelessness has been more visible lately, since development has begun on commercial projects on Lincoln Street south of the Fred Meyer shopping center, site of a longtime homeless encampment in the wooded area along Interstate 5.

“Looking at homelessness from all aspects, you can really see the big gaps (in services),” she said. “I don’t have a solution, but I’d like to see everyone get together and see some common ground. I don’t have a solution, but I know that what we’re doing today isn’t working.”

Still, she admires the way that United Way operates in Whatcom County.

“United Way looks to solutions at the front end of the problem, it works together with multiple city agencies,” she said. “You really get a feeling for how good this community is, how well we work together to take care of our own. United Way is not just an agency that hands out money, it takes a lead in finding solutions.”

“I’m always thinking about the needs and issues that the United Way can help with,” she said.