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Published: Sunday, 12/14/2008

Toledo area firms try to keep up Yule tradition in recession

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

BECAUSE grocers and food-processing plants are scrambling to boost efficiency in a tough economy, food bank executive Deb Vas will have less to hand out to needy families in the Toledo area this Christmas.

In the past, slightly damaged but still edible goods often ended up in the pantry of the Toledo Seagate Food Bank in the near south side. But the agency s cupboards are barer this year.

Companies are saying they are being more frugal in how they manufacture things to do a better job of quality control, explained Ms. Vas, executive director of the food bank.

It is just one way that hard times are affecting charitable giving at businesses locally and across the country.


At left, Dawn Miller and her daughter Claire, 6, pick out a  Help Us Help  bag to purchase at The Andersons store on Talmadge Road. At left, Dawn Miller and her daughter Claire, 6, pick out a Help Us Help bag to purchase at The Andersons store on Talmadge Road.
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U.S. firms contribute $11 billion in cash and merchandise to charities annually, according to a survey by the Conference Board organization. Donations are spread throughout the year, according to Carolyn Cavicchio, a Conference Board expert on corporate charity.

Still, for corporate philanthropy, the Christmas holidays are a special time when businesses launch charitable promotions, send employees to volunteer in soup kitchens, and erect Christmas trees decorated with needy families gift wish lists.

It is too soon to tell how those and other corporate charitable programs will be affected by the recession, the Conference Board official said. An annual survey conducted by the organization in September found that most corporations planned to follow through with charitable giving plans for the remainder of 2008. But for the first time in many years, they expected no increase in donations in 2009.

Many of those firms that anticipated increases next year planned to send the cash and merchandise overseas. That is a trend we are seeing, said Ms. Cavicchio. Companies are giving more globally to follow where their business is going.

Results of the survey were ready in early December, but Ms. Cavicchio decided not to distribute them because business conditions deteriorated so widely and rapidly in late autumn. Instead, she will re-do the survey next month to see if plans have changed.

In northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, plans vary by company.

Volunteers from accounting firm Ernst & Young could be found last week organizing groceries at Seagate Food Bank. Such efforts help offset cuts in donations that have reduced the charity s grocery donations this year to just one-fifth the amount earlier in the decade, the executive director said.

Emi Parker, left, Cheryl Luce, and Aaron Seeburger, employees of accounting fi rm Ernst & Young, pack toiletries for clients of Toledo Seagate Food Bank. Emi Parker, left, Cheryl Luce, and Aaron Seeburger, employees of accounting fi rm Ernst & Young, pack toiletries for clients of Toledo Seagate Food Bank.
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Rival accounting company PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP will replace an annual holiday party with a $50,000 donation to charities in Toledo, Detroit, and Grand Rapids, Mich. Also, officials of the firm s divisional headquarters in Detroit are encouraging employees at offices in those cities to volunteer for charities.

Among programs at car dealerships, Yark Automotive Group has promised Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northwestern Ohio a donation last year, it was $25 for each car sold in December. With automobile sales down nationwide, it is unclear how much the drive will raise. Last year, the charity received $16,000, which was used to help grant wishes to 85 needy children.

Seven Ohio stores operated by The Andersons Inc., of Maumee, will distribute gift bags, paid for by customers at discounted prices, to homeless shelters and other charities in December. The bags include toiletries and other products that the charities deem useful.

Among other programs at retailers, Cincinnati-based Macy s Inc. is donating $1 to the national Make-A-Wish Foundation for each letter to Santa Claus deposited in special mailboxes in each of the chain s stores nationwide. Its gift is capped at $1 million.

At Toledo s largest publicly traded corporations, most holiday efforts are employee-driven. At auto parts maker Dana Holding Corp., Toledo s largest corporation, staff members are taking food, toys, and gifts for poor families.

Similar efforts are under way at bottle-maker Owens-Illinios Inc., Perrysburg, and at Owens Corning, a Toledo-based maker of building materials and glass-fiber reinforcements.

All three of the firms make donations year-round through charitable foundations.

The company s charitable foundation doesn t disclose how much it distributes and isn t required to make annual filings with the IRS, said Carol Gee, spokesman.

IRS reports filed by foundations at the other two companies show that donations have declined. The Dana Corp. Foundation, with $1.4 million in assets, gave out $732,019 nationwide in 2007. That was half of the $1.5 million handed out during the prior year.

OC s foundation, with $15 million in assets, distributed $416,000 nationally last year, or 4 percent less than in 2006. Donations typically are made in cities where the firms have factories and other operations.

One of the region s largest private firms, Sauder Woodworking Co., Archbold, also has trimmed contributions.

The Fulton County firm is the nation s largest manufacturer of ready-to-assemble furniture. Charity was scaled back last year when the company suffered steep losses in sales and profits, said Kevin Sauder, chief executive.

We are doing better in 2008 than we did in 2007, he said. We re not in a position to make major increases in our charitable giving. It s not zero. But it s lower than it once was.

We hope to get back to the level of giving we once had, Mr. Sauder added, declining to discuss specifics.

Not all corporate charity involves cash and food.

Tharaldson Lodging Co., which operates three hotels in the Toledo area, offers a free night s stay on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve to people visiting relatives in area hospitals, nursing homes, and treatment centers.

The practice was started in the 1980s by the firm s founding family, who had spent time in a hospital room with a sick child during the holidays and lost a close relative in a motorcycle accident at Christmastime.

About 1,000 people take advantage of the Room in the Inn program each year, said a spokesman for Tharaldson in Fargo, N.D.

The chain s Country Inn & Suites, Maumee, gave away six rooms at Thanksgiving. Participants last year included a family from Minnesota visiting a terminally ill grandmother at a local hospice. Tharaldson s other local hotels are Staybridge Suites and Fairfield Inn, both in Maumee.

About 110 local businesses provide tutors and other assistance to inner-city schools through the nonprofit Partners in Education Program. During the holidays, participating firms often donate items such as hats and gloves for students and books for school libraries, said Eileen Kerner, executive director.

Partnerships have declined 8 percent from last year. Only one firm has blamed the economy, telling program officials that it lacks sufficient staff to continue participating.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:gpakulski@theblade.comor 419-724-6082.



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