Springs Industries Inc. of Fort Mill, S.C., wants to comfort victims of Hurricane Katrina, so it plans to send comforters. And sheets. And blankets. The parent company of Wamsutta, Springmaid and Regal bed-and-bath accessories is doing what it knows best to ease the terrible suffering caused by the United States' costliest natural disaster.
Less than a week after the storm devastated the Gulf Coast, dozens of giant corporations such as Springs Industries have offered more than $100 million and all manner of products and services to victims in the region. "And this is just the beginning," said Johanna I. Schneider, executive director of external relations for the Business Roundtable, an organization that represents 160 of the nation's biggest companies.
The speed of the response is unprecedented. "This is the most rapid outpouring of corporate help I've ever seen," said Stephen C. Jordan, executive director of the Center for Corporate Citizenship, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Corporations have a history of opening their coffers and distributing free goods after catastrophes. Their most generous stretch came after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when donations totaled $750 million. Last year's tsunami in South Asia attracted $600 million in corporate donations. Depending on how severe the situation in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama becomes, corporate aid could approach the amount donated after the tsunami.
Companies contribute, in part, out of altruism and a sense of community. "It's the right thing to do. It's what many customers have come to expect. And it's part of many companies' overall marketing strategies," said Caryn R. Pawliger, a senior director at the Public Affairs Council, a nonprofit group that trains executives on how to deal with public policy controversies.
But corporations also know that good-heartedness is good business. They are charitable not only to help the helpless but also to benefit themselves.
"Some folks would say that's crass or calculating or opportunistic, but that's how businesses think; these [donations] are an investment in a company's future," said Patricia Lewis, a marketing professor at American University. "How a business conducts itself in the region today will leave an indelible mark on that business's reputation. And given the choice, consumers will be predisposed to do business with companies that have good reputations."
After the tsunami, executives of major corporations decided to coordinate their responses to natural disasters. The Business Roundtable took the lead and now tries to connect companies that want to provide charity with the right people in government and the nonprofit world. Last week, its office was deluged with e-mail offerings from companies, and it helped them get in touch with liaisons at the American Red Cross, the Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere.
But logistics were so problematic that not everything that companies wanted to give could be used right away. Priority was given to the most immediate concerns: housing and transportation. Other types of services had to wait.
Still, companies of every imaginable type have promised to help. Among the most active were drugmakers, auto manufacturers, consumer products and financial services companies, telecommunications firms, and retailers. Oil companies, whose profits have ballooned as the price of gasoline has soared, have also provided millions of dollars toward the recovery.
The biggest single promise of support has come from Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the country's largest retailer. Chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr. called the White House to pledge $15 million to "jump-start" the rescue efforts, the company said. Wal-Mart has a significant presence in the South and is conducting a national campaign to improve the public's perception of the company.
As part of its commitment, Wal-Mart said it would establish mini-Wal-Mart stores in the ravaged region to give out clothing, diapers, baby wipes, food, baby formula, toothbrushes, bedding and water to people in need. The company also said it would provide food, clothing, shelter and money to employees who have been dislocated by the storm.
A long list of companies are giving money to the Red Cross and other rescue operations. The funds are coming mostly from the firms' treasuries, but several companies have also agreed to match employee contributions. A few, such as Verizon Communications Inc. and Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., are matching employee donations on a 2-for-1 basis -- a rate that is unusually high, even for circumstances as tragic as these.
A lot of corporate assistance will come in kind as well as in cash. General Motors Corp. is making 150 vehicles available to the Red Cross. Navistar International Corp., a producer of heavy trucks, is working with its dealers and customers to direct trucks to the affected areas. Toyota Motor Corp. said it would ease terms on leases for customers near the Gulf Coast who have trouble making payments.
Many corporate gifts are practical and tailored to the greatest needs of the moment. Anheuser-Busch Cos. is sending nearly 2.5 million cans of drinking water each week to the region, and Culligan International Co. is sending five truckloads of water. DTE Energy Co. is sending tree trimmers.
General Electric Co. is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide electrical generators, trucks, trailers, modular space, medical equipment and water filtration. Its NBC television network hosted a telethon for the victims on Friday night, which raised millions of dollars.
Phone companies say they are doing their best to reestablish service and to provide some service without charge to the neediest people. Sprint Nextel Corp. is deploying satellite equipment and 3,000 walkie-talkie handsets to accelerate restoration of emergency communications. SBC Communications Inc. will expend more than $4 million a month to help New Orleans evacuees who have been relocated to Houston and San Antonio. At the Astrodome, SBC has set up 1,000 telephones with free local and long-distance calling, as well as free wireless phones and computers with high-speed Internet access.
One company's handouts are designed to address the region's desperate need to find extra shelter and motorized transport. Cendant Corp., which owns Avis and Budget rental car companies and Ramada and Days Inn hotels, agreed to provide cars and unused hotel rooms to rescue personnel and, potentially, to victims of the hurricane as well. It may also make some of its timeshare resorts available outside affected areas.
Drug companies have been especially active. Abbott Laboratories Inc. has pledged $2 million in cash, as well as $2 million in nutritional and medical products. Pfizer Inc. and Bayer will give millions of dollars in cash and products. Eli Lilly & Co. said it would donate 40,000 vials of refrigerated insulin. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. is sending baby formula.
The nation's retailers have also swung into full charity mode. Target Corp. said it would donate $1.5 million and offered land in Louisiana to the Red Cross to help it to coordinate relief efforts. Home Depot Inc. and its charitable foundation donated $1.6 million, while home-improvement rival Lowe's Cos. activated its customer-donation program, which matches gifts dollar for dollar. J.C. Penney Co. said it will donate $350,000 to the Red Cross.
Wal-Mart dispatched 10 truckloads of water, 20,000 batteries and 20,000 emergency kits to Baton Rouge. It handed over two of its buildings in Louisiana to emergency-relief workers and created a message board system on its Web site for anyone trying to reach family members.
DHL, the express-delivery and logistics company, is donating up to $500,000 of shipping services into and out of the region. FedEx Corp. offered to use its fleet to airlift tons of donated goods. Nationwide is sending truckloads of ice, water, food, diapers, toilet paper and paper towels.
The airline industry is mounting what could become a massive airlift. Several carriers, including US Airways, began sending aircraft to New Orleans on Friday to help take thousands of stranded people to safer territory.
Among the oil companies, Exxon Mobil Corp. is leading the field with $7 million in promised contributions. ConocoPhillips and Shell Oil Co. have pledged $3 million each. Marathon Oil Corp. said it would deliver $1.5 million to the Red Cross. The BP Foundation gave $1 million.
Financial services companies are weighing in and, as might be expected, they are providing largely cash. Citigroup Inc. said it would donate up to $3 million. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. said it would donate up to $3 million. Merrill Lynch & Co. has committed $1.5 million, and the T. Rowe Price Associates Foundation, $250,000.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which finance home mortgages, said they would give money to the recovery groups and also would temporarily waive monthly payments for distressed mortgage holders in the hurricane area.
With so many children on the street and without prospects, one company's beneficence is likely to be deeply appreciated. Mattel Inc. said it would distribute several thousand toys to children in the stricken Gulf Coast.
"We, at Mattel, understand the power of 'play,' " said Kevin Farr, chief financial officer of Mattel and chairman of the Mattel Children's Foundation. "We will be working with organizations to ensure children have access to toys that will provide moments of much-needed relief during the difficult months ahead."
Transportation | DTE Energy: 100 trucks and 75 tree trimmers * General Motors: 150 vehicles available to the Red Cross * Navistar: arranging for heavy trucks to move into the area * US Airways: a jet to assist in an airlift
Food and Medicine | Anheuser-Busch: 2.5 million cans of drinking water a week * Bristol-Myers Squibb: many cartons of baby formula * Eli Lilly: 40,000 vials of refrigerated insulin * Kellogg: seven truckloads of crackers and cookies
Shelter | Cendant: unused hotel rooms for rescue personnel * General Electric: trailers, modular space and medical equipment * Home Depot: $500,000 to nonprofit groups that rehabilitate housing * Springs Industries: sheets, blankets and comforters
Waffle House Senior Vice President Steve Wright helps provide ice to hurricane victims in Gulfport, Miss.
Jillian Morris, left, of Radio Bloomington collects a donation from Dorothy Pinkston during a fund drive in Bloomington, Ill., that raised about $40,000.
In Indianapolis, Eli Lilly & Co. employees load supplies and antibiotics onto a company jet bound for the Gulf Coast.