'Tremendous' business support for tornado victims

As people all over Kentucky have rallied to support victims of last week's tornadoes, businesses have been among those at the forefront helping boost relief efforts.

"The business support has been tremendous," said Winn Stephens, director of development for the Bluegrass Chapter of the American Red Cross. "We've always gotten tremendous business support, but this has generated more support because it is so local.

"We can all feel this in some way. The corporations have employees and loved ones who have been affected by this, and they want to do whatever they can to help."

Look no further than Rite Aid, he said. The pharmacy chain has to deal with added costs because its West Liberty store was destroyed by the tornado. In spite of that, the company made a $15,000 gift to the American Red Cross, Stephens said.

The Salvation Army has seen support from Fayette Mall, which called the organization and asked if it would like to set up a space to accept donations.

"They said they have the largest mall in the area and wanted to use that as a way to help folks in need," said the Salvation Army's Maj. Debra Ashcraft.

During the Kentucky Cares telethon supporting tornado victims on Friday, Xerox announced a $50,000 donation. Nearly 5,000 Kentuckians work for the company, which operates call centers and other sites that perform work outsourced from other businesses.

"We had several employees who were impacted by the storm to varying degrees," said Xerox spokesman Chris Gilligan. "There were a couple of folks who lost family and friends and others who had property damage.

"We started thinking that while we can help those individuals directly, what can we do on a broader scale?"

Toyota is donating $100,000 to non-profits to assist storm victims throughout several states in the region. The company also plans to match all employee contributions. While employees are free to support any relief organizations, Toyota's matching funds will go to the American Red Cross, said spokesman Rick Hesterberg.

"The best way we've learned to help a disaster victim is through a financial donation," Hesterberg said. "Those financial contributions allow the American Red Cross to purchase exactly what is needed for disaster relief."

Lexington-based printer maker Lexmark International is matching employees' donations of up to $10,000 to the American Red Cross. The company is also encouraging employees to take part in its volunteer time off program, which allows them to take off up to three days a year to assist non-profits, said spokesman Jerry Grasso.

While the largest companies are making generous donations, Stephens said many smaller companies are helping out, too.

"Saul Good Restaurants paid for everybody to have lunch today at the telethon," Stephens said Friday from the studios of WKYT, which hosted the event. "And Cloud Printing in Nicholasville donated all the T-shirts everyone is wearing."

Other companies are making more unique donations. Hagyard Pharmacy collected items from equine enthusiasts to help horse owners in storm-damaged areas.

Stephens said the outpouring of support reminds him why he wanted to work for the American Red Cross.

"It just reminds me how important service is ... people are entrusting us with their hard-earned dollars with the expectations that we will do good things," he said. "And we want to make sure we're honoring that commitment."