Highlighting the corporations that stepped up to help the neediest in a rough 2009

Martha's Table is one of the charities that have benefited over the years from corporate partnerships.
Martha's Table is one of the charities that have benefited over the years from corporate partnerships. (Katherine Frey/the Washington Post)
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By Steven Pearlstein
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No, Virginia, 2009 was not a great year for corporate philanthropy. The $10,000 and $25,000 gifts that once arrived almost like clockwork at local nonprofits came this year in denominations of half that size, if they came at all. With the economy in recession and companies scrambling to reduce payroll just to remain profitable, there was simply less money to spread around. All the more reason to celebrate those companies that maintained their giving or stepped up to do more.

When the downturn first hit last year, the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region was quick to anticipate the increased urgency for resources at those safety-net organizations that provide those most in need with a meal, medical attention and a roof over their heads. So it launched a special Neighbors in Need Fund. The World Bank was the first to respond with a $150,000 donation, followed in short order by $500,000 from Bank of America, whose own balance sheet at the time was in a world of hurt. All in all, Neighbors in Need has distributed $3.6 million this year to more than 70 frontline organizations.

Meanwhile, in Prince George's County, the Community Foundation and the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers were tackling a somewhat different problem -- the lack of organizational and management capacity in many of the county's nonprofit organizations. Kaiser Permanente stepped up first, with a donation of $200,000 to the Partnership for Prince George's County. Right behind it was Wachovia (now Wells Fargo), Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Riderwood Village and Stewart Funeral Home.

Things were looking bleak again this year for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington until someone came up with the idea of relocating its headquarters staff from leased space in Silver Spring to one of its District clubhouses. The move shaved $200,000 off the clubs' annual operating expenses, but was done almost without cost thanks to architect Salditt & Associates and Forrester Construction.

And let's not forget the $150,000 donated by E-Trade to Habitat for Humanity for its Maple Ridge community in Northern Virginia.

Firms come through

The real estate bust was particularly bad news for the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, which was counting on support from construction companies to complete 4,500 square feet of new shop space for its wooden boat building apprenticeship program. That's when the concrete division of Clark Construction Group stepped up with the men and materials to complete the project.

While the indefatigable Joe Robert gets most of the credit for creating and sustaining "Fight Night," Joe will be the first to tell you that there is a ton of corporate support behind his Fight for Children. This year, none was more important than that from Geico, which volunteered to take the lead in putting on a first-ever golf tournament for the benefit of the nonprofit. The insurer not only came up with a $125,000 check and a team of volunteer organizers for the October event at the TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, but corralled General Electric, Pepco and PNC to serve as co-sponsors.

And while we're on the subject of sport, I should mention NII Holdings, which for the second year sponsored a golf tournament that this year raised $100,000 for Reston Interfaith; local Hooters franchisees who raised $18,000 for the Autism Society of Northern Virginia through their golf tourney; and Acumen Solutions, which for the last three years has sponsored a road race in November that this year raised $35,000 for 13 charities.

As it has opened more stores in the region, Wal-Mart has noticeably increased its philanthropic presence, particularly in fighting hunger and homelessness. Since May, its Gaithersburg and Waldorf stores have donated all their leftover produce, meat, dairy and bakery products to the Capital Area Food Bank. Wal-Mart also donated $200,000 this year to the D.C. Central Kitchen, while the Wal-Mart Foundation pledged another $300,000 to the Central Kitchen's Campus Kitchens Project, which runs meals programs on college campuses across the country. By its count, Wal-Mart distributed more than $700,000 to Washington-area nonprofits this year.

At the premium end of the supermarket spectrum, Whole Foods also did its part, this year donating cash and 100,000 pounds of perishable foods to Manna Food Center, the food bank in Montgomery County.

We in the press haven't always given CareFirst the most favorable press over the years, but there is no denying its generosity. Last year the local Blue Cross company increased its community giving by more than 10 percent, to $46 million, much of it for free medical care and discounted drugs.

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