Besides boosting community programs with gifts of money or equipment, a few companies with large labor forces are also "donating" manpower -- giving selected employes paid leaves from their jobs to work for social causes.

Penelope Owens, for example, is on the payroll of the Xerox Corp. in Arlington, but since January, the 29-year-old order entry department administrator has been reporting to work every morning at the District of Columbia Special Olympics. Through June, she'll be helping that organization raise funds, recruit volunteers and gain media exposure for its athletic program for the mentally retarded.

Owens is one of 13 Xerox employes across the country granted 1986 "social service leaves" for up to a year. According to Elliott Horton, Xerox vice president for government affairs, the program not only allows employes "to use Xerox-developed skills, but often enables them to return to Xerox with new experiences and perspectives that are meaningful for their lives, both on the job and at home."

Xerox has granted leaves to more than 300 employes since the program began in 1971. Employes design their own projects and a committee of employes reviews applications.

IBM has more than 200 employes around the nation currently on loan to community organizations or educational institutions. Ken Glickman, a Bethesda IBM programmer, for example, is currently working at Gallaudet College, where he's teaching algebra and computer graphics to deaf students. Mary Charles Blakebrough, a programmer from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is compiling software to assist a D.C.-based organization serving Hispanic citizens.

The social service leave program, instituted in 1971, "gives IBM the opportunity to put something back into the communities where our employes live and where we do business," explains community relations director Kent Cushenberry.

IBM employes initiate their own requests, or organizations may request a person with certain skills, "and we act as the matchmaker," says Cushenberry, noting that employes on social service leaves also may be drawing an IBM salary.

In many cases, he says, "we think that placing such a professional in an organization can constitute a more substantial contribution than an outright dollar grant."