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Opening Their Pockets

Three local businesses donate money, pledge aid to colleagues

Three McLean businesses have donated millions of dollars to assist the relief effort for their colleagues affected by Hurricane Katrina and pledge to continue to help in the rebuilding effort that will take years to complete.

Capital One has pledged $1 million in initial effort, Freddie Mac has pledged $10 million and the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International has begun planning to incorporate fundraising initiatives in four upcoming events, all to help their coworkers and associates throughout the Gulf Coast rebuild.

HSMAI has created the "Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund" which will collect donations at all 13 planned events for the hospitality industry for the remainder of the year, said Bob Gilbert, president and CEO of HSMAI. The first event was slated for Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 7 and 8 at the Affordable Meetings National in Washington, with all donations raised being matched up to $25,000 by HSMAI, Gilbert said.

"Our organization is a nonprofit that works to provide resources for the hospitality, travel and tourism industry," he said. With those industries being wiped out almost entirely after Hurricane Katrina, businesses will need all the help they can get to reconstruct and reopen along with providing much-needed jobs in the region, he said.

"We have markets around the world and we recognize the impact this disaster has had on our members," Gilbert said. "It will take years to rebuild the industry and the infrastructure. The effects of the hurricane will have a major ripple effect in every aspect of life there," he said.

HSMAI has a "vested interest in how quickly they are able to recover because that is our livelihood," Gilbert said. Without hotels for people to stay in, or work in, the economy will continue to falter in the areas affected by the storm. It's not just about vacations, he said, but about people who rely on the tourism industry for their livelihood.

"Think of what would happen to the region if Las Vegas shut down for a year," Gilbert said. "Thousands of jobs would be lost. We can all relate to that pain when we go to fill up our gas tanks," he said, referring to the sizable amount of the American oil producing industry that has been without work due to the damage of Katrina in the Gulf.

ON SEPT. 15, a conference already scheduled in New York will add a workshop to discuss the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the travel industry, he said.

Capital One has not only pledged $1 million in initial relief money to the American Red Cross, but opened its call centers for the nationally-televised Concert for Hurricane Relief telethon on NBC last Friday night, said Pam Girardo, a spokeswoman for the company.

"We also volunteered to underwrite the costs of the telethon, so all the money donated will go directly to the relief effort," Girardo said. "Once this hurricane happened, we went to NBC and offered our services. We had worked with them for their telethons after 9/11 and the tsunami in January," she said.

Any donations raised by employees will be matched two-to-one by Capital One, she said. "It's been a phenomenal response. We put out the message this morning about the telethon and within six hours we had 800 volunteers to man the phones," she said on Friday. "It's so exciting to see the donations literally going up and coming in so quickly. It's part of our culture to help the community."

Freddie Mac has already pledged $10 million for initial relief, and has committed to help restore housing to those who have lost their homes in the hurricane, said Shawn Flaherty, media representative at Freddie Mac.

"This is definitely an event that has a huge housing impact ā€” in addition to the families and children who live there," Flaherty said, adding that the philanthropic interests at Freddie Mac tend to focus on helping families in need, both locally and nationally.

"The scope of this event is so large, we felt this was something we could and should do to help in a big way," she said. "It's still very early and we'll continue to help more as it becomes clearer how much help is needed."

The mortgage department of Freddie Mac has been asked to protect the credit ratings of their clients who either don't have a home to mortgage or jobs to pay for their bills immediately, she said. "We've set up a task force to monitor and see how we can help in the future but we do own a lot of mortgages down there," Flaherty said.

Any money raised by employees for the relief effort will be matched two-to-one by the company, she said. "We've already given $100,000 to the Red Cross, the other $1 million has been pledged. We want to better understand how to give responsibly and make sure our donations go where they're needed. Right now we're focusing on getting our employees to donate on their own on top of what we've already given," she said.