Small Businesses Offer Big Help to Katrina Relief Efforts


Sept. 8, 2005 — -- Large corporations have been making a splash in the headlines for their Hurricane Katrina relief efforts -- like Exxon Mobil donating $7 million to the Red Cross or MCI setting up three communication centers in the devastated area. But many small businesses are making big contributions, too. Lacking the manpower, budget and connections of the big guys, they are still finding ways to improve the situation for Katrina survivors.

Below are examples of how small firms are pitching in for Katrina's victims.

"There are a lot of people who got out with the clothes on their back, their wallets and their cell phones," said Compact Power Systems' director of marketing, Rodney Rad. "Our lives these days revolve around the cell phone."

But Katrina struck more than a week ago, which means the cell phones probably have run out of batteries. And even evacuees who brought their chargers might not have anywhere to plug them in.

Compact Power Systems knew it had a product that could help: Cellboost, a single-use charger that can recharge a cell phone without connecting to a power outlet or other outside source of electricity. It can provide a combination of up to 60 minutes of talk time and 60 hours of standby time.

"We wanted to put people in touch with their loved ones," Rad said.

But for the company, located in Woodland Hills, Calif., distributing the Cellboosts -- which retail for between $3.99 and $5.99 -- proved to be quite an obstacle.

"I think we called about 20 organizations," Rad said. "A lot of the organizations were saying that they couldn't accept the donations now, but were interested in them for later."

Last Thursday, the company sent 500 of its phone chargers to the Baton Rouge River Center. Hearts with Hands, an Asheville, N.C.-based nonprofit organization, accepted 1,500 Cellboosts, which were given to their volunteers to distribute to Gulf State residents. A group from the sheriff's department of Orange County, Calif., that was traveling to the Gulf Coast with trucks of supplies took another 500. The company is also making arrangements to donate more Cellboosts to the Salvation Army.

"We've made these donations, but we don't want to stop here -- 2,500 batteries is nothing," Rad said. "We want to give more, but the problem is finding ways to give those batteries."

Sleep Experts, which has 19 bed stores in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, was able to provide help locally because so many nearby shelters were admitting Katrina evacuees. It donated and delivered 300 refurbished beds to six shelters so evacuees could sleep on real beds, instead of cots or inflatable mattresses. The company also provided beds for members of the family of one employee affected by Katrina.

"During this tragedy, people need a good night's sleep more than ever," said company President Christine Cook.

The company also provided 1,500 blankets and collected donations during a Labor Day concert co-sponsored by a classical music radio station. The company's East Plano store will deliver 400 pillows made by a local Girl Scout troop to Dallas' Reunion Arena, where the Red Cross is housing many evacuees. The stores have also been collecting food and water donations and delivering them to the Salvation Army and local shelters.

The children and babies who had to leave their homes because of Katrina are in particular need of more clothing. And now, thanks to some generous donations, some of them will be sporting stylish children's clothing often sold in boutiques and department stores.

Julia Beck Bromberg, president of Forty Weeks, a marketing consultancy for companies trying to reach pregnant women and mothers of young children, rallied some of her clothing company clients. She asked them to send brand-new clothes to a nonprofit in Houston called Collaborative for Children.

"They had all just gotten their new inventory for fall," she said.

Nano Baby, Liberty Garage and Duet Designs are sending a total of 1,950 items of clothing. Zutano is sending 1,200 items of colorful clothing for babies and children through age 6. Their shipment has an approximate retail value of $18,000.

"We're hoping some special outfits can help people feel connected again, provide a little comfort to the children and families and let them know that there are people that really care about the situation," said Michael Belenky, Zutano's president.

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