A telephone was put in by the Oregon Telephone Company, electric lights supplied by the General Electric Company, chairs, tables and other furnishings provided by the business houses of the city. The Singer Machine Company sent sewing machines for the use of the supply committee and work began in earnest.
--- Clara Barton, The Red Cross: A History of this Remarkable International Movement in the Interest of Humanity (1898)
The American Red Cross was not yet 20 years old when Clara Barton penned these words, but already the organization she had founded had developed ties with businesses wanting to support humanitarian and patriotic causes. From the Michigan forest fires of 1881 through World Wars I and II to September 11 and the hurricane season of 2005, the Red Cross has benefited from the generosity of employers and, increasingly, their employees and customers.
A Home Depot employee assembles sifters to help wildfire victims sort through ash and rubble to find personal belongings.
(Photo courtesy of The Home Depot)
As wildfires began spreading throughout Southern California, dozens of businesses stepped forward to offer their assistance. Several companies, including Nestle Waters, CBS, and The Home Depot, have donated necessary products and supplies to the Red Cross, while firms such as Lowe’s and Best Buy have made it easy for their customers to give in their stores. Employee fundraising drives have been especially popular—at last count, more than two dozen companies have hosted campaigns to encourage their workers to donate money to support the wildfire relief effort.
Corporate donations are still an important part of the mix, and more than 20 companies have made such commitments thus far. Toyota and Hewlett-Packard, for example, have each pledged $2 million, and Wal-Mart is contributing $1 million. Bank of America, Exxon, Chevron, and Target together are contributing $1.8 million. Hewlett-Packard and Wal-Mart are also encouraging additional contributions to the Red Cross, the former through its employees and the latter through its customers.
Testing a New Alliance
The Southern California wildfires are also testing a new alliance between the Red Cross and the Business Roundtable, a membership organization of 160 chief executives from leading companies. The alliance, announced in September to coincide with National Preparedness Month, is designed to coordinate the provision of private sector resources to major disaster relief operations. The partnership also focuses on training employees of Roundtable member companies to serve as volunteers during a disaster and to encourage them to take the three basic steps to be Red Cross Ready. Warehouse space, fuel cards and freight transport are just some of the many resources that Roundtable member companies have offered to the Red Cross.
“Companies are looking to give us their money, their people and their products,” says Kristine Templin, director of corporate partnerships at the American Red Cross. “They’re willing to leverage all of their assets to assist us with our relief efforts.”
For The Home Depot, that willingness meant donating materials and muscle to build sifters—wooden squares made of two-by-fours and mesh screens that enable people to sift through ash and rubble to find their personal belongings. More than 1,900 of these sifters have been constructed and distributed to victims of the wildfires.
CBS, meanwhile, has been taping and airing Red Cross public service announcements on its television and radio stations and its public Website. The company also announced it would match the first $125,000 of employee contributions to the relief effort.
Another company, Nestle, has donated bottled water and Power Bars to the Red Cross to distribute to emergency workers and evacuees. Nestle is also matching employee donations to the Red Cross.
“We have good friends in the business community,” says Templin. “When disaster strikes, we know we can count on our corporate partners to fill the void.”
All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year, disasters like the California wildfires, by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disaster. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster please do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.