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SunTrust to fill gap for area charities
Some agencies feared loss of funding after banks merger
Henry Bonds, 3, left, and his cousin, Richie Little, 5, look for the play money to come out of an automated teller machine at Interactive Neighborhood for Kids. SunTrust has taken over sponsorship of the play bank at INK after its recent acquisition of Gainesville Bank & Trust. - photo by Tom Reed

For years, Gainesville Bank & Trust had been a major sponsor of many civic and charitable events in Hall County. When news of the bank's merger with SunTrust was announced, it sent shock waves through many of the organizations that depended on the bank's sponsorship.

"I cried when I first heard it," said Sherri Hooper, executive director of Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, a hands-on children's museum.

But since then, the news for Hooper has been good. SunTrust stepped up and assumed the sponsorship of the make-believe bank inside the museum. The area, which includes a mock ATM, has been rebranded with the SunTrust name.

Gainesville Bank & Trust's annual investment in charity was in the vicinity of $250,000, according to estimates.

Though not discussing dollar figures, Lana Nix, Gainesville market president for SunTrust, said the bank is attempting to assume many of the sponsor relationships that were previously attached to Gainesville Bank & Trust.

"We sat down with several of the officers at GB&T and determined the sponsorships they were accustomed to doing," Nix said.

For the 2009 United Way campaign, SunTrust will contribute its regular corporate contribution to United Way, plus the amount of GB&T's corporate donation.

"Usually, what you see is two companies come together and the sum of the sponsorship doesn't equal what they did separately. We're trying not to do that," Nix said.

Lynne Allen, director of volunteer services at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, was faced with the loss of the presenting sponsor at Marketplace, the annual holiday show and sale for the Medical Center Auxiliary.

In 2007, Gainesville Bank & Trust had been the presenting sponsor. Ironically, the opening night of the show came the same day GB&T and SunTrust announced their merger.

SunTrust will be the presenting sponsor for this year's show in November.

"This means we can donate more of the proceeds to the Women's Imaging Outpatient Center in our new Imaging Center," Allen said.

Nix said other ongoing sponsorships include underwriting some of the costs for programs for the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, located at Featherbone Communiversity on Chestnut Street.

Though SunTrust is the largest bank in Georgia, it had a smaller presence than GB&T in Hall County.
GB&T had eight offices and held 19 percent of the deposit market. SunTrust, with five offices, had 5.8 percent of the deposit market, according to the June 30, 2007, report of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Nix said the merger will give SunTrust a much larger presence in Hall County.

"I think the community is going to be pleased with our level of community involvement," she said.