Big Business Gives Big Bucks to Storm Recovery
Life + Money

Big Business Gives Big Bucks to Storm Recovery

REUTERS/New Jersey Governor's Office/Tim Larsen/Handout

Major corporations have joined individuals and small businesses from all over the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area have come forward to help the thousands of people still suffering from Superstorm Sandy. The Chamber of Commerce reported Friday that businesses have pledged more than $38 million in relief, including cash donations, products or services, and employee and customer matching campaigns.

Walmart (WMT), the world’s largest retailer with more than 10,300 stores, has pledged more than $1 million to the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and Feeding America to help with efforts in the hardest hit areas of New York and New Jersey, “to ensure the essential needs of residents are being met.” Chief operating officer Gisel Ruiz said at a press conference Sunday, “Moments like this demand that we all come together – business, government and community – to help our neighbors rebuild their lives. Walmart [wants] to help ensure that those who have been impacted have what they need.” 

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The Walmart Foundation has been providing food and personal-care products to those currently in shelters. It’s also delivered roughly a million bottles of water, split equally between the five boroughs of New York City and the state of New Jersey. On Sunday, the company hosted what it called the “world’s largest grill” in its parking lot in Secaucus, N.J., where it prepared hot meals for the community, served by Walmart employees.  

According to Walmart spokesperson Dianna Gee, “We have facilitated several requests from government officials, [ranging] from transporting generators to schools and hospitals in the city of New York Friday night, to delivering about a million bottles of water on Saturday throughout the northeast,” she noted in an email this weekend to The City Wire.

With those truckloads of donations, the company was responding to a request made by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday to help struggling residents as colder weather set in. The governor said he also contacted PepsiCo (PEP), which donated five trailer truckloads of beverages and three truckloads of snacks – totaling more than 100,000 cases of products. PepsiCo has also committed to donate another 22 truckloads of supplies over the next week.

Other companies stepping up: JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) has promised as much as $5 million in donations to the Red Cross and other agencies, while as much as $5 billion in reduced cost loan assistance for small and medium-sized businesses directly affected by the storm to help them rebuild. (CEO Jamie Dimon noted that the New York-based firm has over 30,000 employees and 10 million customers affected by the storm.) Disney Co. (DIS) has committed $2 million to Sandy victims. Citigroup Inc. is giving $1 million to the Red Cross and says it’s “suspending foreclosures in the affected area and waiving various bank fees,” according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Still other companies that have gotten involved: Goldman Sachs (GS) and its employees are donating $5 million, the company said Friday; it will also give $5 million in loans to small businesses impacted by Sandy. “These small business funds will match the $5 million in New York City funding for small businesses affected by the hurricane announced by Mayor Bloomberg [last] week,” the firm said on its website. “Both the capital from Goldman Sachs, through its Urban Investment Group, and from the city will be made available through the New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC), a non-bank lender which will then make the end-loans to the small businesses.” Goldman chairman Lloyd C. Blankfein said, “Fast access to capital will help them get back on their feet more quickly.”

UPS announced that it’s pledged $1.5 million in cash and support to aid in recovery efforts, while Kohl’s (KSS), the department store chain, has donated $1 million and is encouraging employees to volunteer in the relief effort. Anheuser-Busch (BUD) switched a line at one of its Georgia breweries from beer to potable water so that it could produce more than a million cans of emergency drinking water for those in need – and shipped cartons of that emergency water to disaster recovery areas on the East Coast. And Proctor & Gamble’s (PG) Duracell brand’s “Power Forward” centers have offered Sandy victims the chance to charge cellphones as well as pick up free flashlight batteries.

Minneapolis-based Target (TGT), with more than 1,780 stores across the U.S., announced last week that it’s donated $500,000 in financial support and products. “When disaster strikes, Target listens and acts quickly to donate time, money and essentials to help support the needs of our communities,” said Gregg Steinhafel, chairman and CEO of the company. “We hope our donation will aid in the East Coast’s recovery.”

One big red flag, however: Businesses that don’t come across as sincere in their disaster recovery and community efforts risk paying for it – both in the bottom line and in reputation – if they appear to taking advantage of tragedy for public relations gain. As branding expert Jeff Swystun told USA Today, “If [their effort] seems forced, they’ll pay the price. There will be backlash [from] existing customers as well as through social media.”