Archive for Sunday, September 16, 2001

Businesses step up to help

September 16, 2001


She opened her own business.

"We sold a whole bunch of lemonade the first day. We got $87," said Kajsa, a 9-year-old fourth-grader who opened her stand Wednesday afternoon in her front yard at 1301 Kasold Dr. "It can help people get food and shelter for a while and help people with their bills and help people until they can get another job.

"It may not be like Cisco -- because they donated $6 million -- but it's going to help."

Kajsa's take for the week -- expected to end this afternoon with sales of hot cocoa and coffee -- will be given to the American Red Cross, and it will be added to collections from dozens of established companies in Lawrence and surrounding areas helping with relief efforts.

Doug Houston, a professor of business at Kansas University, said companies were uniquely equipped to help raise money. They're already geared to produce products or provide services, making a shift to accepting and encouraging charitable contributions only natural.

"The best thing that companies can do is allow the people they employ to come out and exercise their own feelings and beliefs about what should be done," Houston said. "Good companies don't drive their employees to come out and help. They empower them to come out and do the right thing."

Among the examples this past week, but by no means a complete list:

l Firstar Bank established disaster relief accounts at all five banks in Lawrence and 2,300 branches across the country, accepting donations and forwarding money to the Red Cross.

l Topeka-based Payless ShoeSource turned its 4,900 North American stores into "financial contribution centers," taking donations for the Red Cross.

l Westwood-based Sprint Corp. donated $500,000 and provided PCS wireless phones and service to relief workers in New York and Washington.

Instances of businesses stepping up to help are both too numerous to recall and more vital than can ever be acknowledged, said Jane Blocher, executive director of the Douglas County chapter of the Red Cross.

"They're invaluable, indispensable," Blocher said. "We're dependent on their support in situations like this. They're reach is so much greater than ours here in Lawrence; we've got an office with four phones.

"These businesses, where people go every day, have so much more visibility that they can reach many more people."

That includes the Mullenix lemonade operation, too.

"They're wonderful," Blocher said.

Rob Meyer, operations manager for Zimmer Radio Group in Lawrence, ran promotions on the group's KLWN and KLZR stations to drum up financial support for relief efforts. The messages, he said, reached more than 50,000 listeners a day and led to nearly $5,000 in collections by the weekend.

Such an effort costs money -- for advertising, wages and other expenses -- but the payoff is worth it, he said.

"It's all about helping the community," he said. "In this case, the community is our country."

-- Business editor Mark Fagan can be reached at 832-7188.

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