Comcast Corp. picked a good time to go national with its "Comcast Cares" program.
The six-year-old charity event had been limited to the corporation's hometown, Philadelphia, where employees spent a day each year volunteering to paint schools, work at food banks and assist senior citizens.
This year, the program went national on Oct. 18. The event was cathartic for many employees.
"After the [Sept. 11] attacks, I must have gotten a zillion phone calls: 'We've got to get on buses and go to New York. We've got to give blood!' " Comcast Corp. senior director of public affairs Diane Tuppeny-Hess said.
Executives urged employees to wait until the company coordinated projects with local charities. In the meantime, employees visited blood banks and collected clothes for the volunteer group New York Cares.
Comcast had hoped 5,000 employees would participate on Oct. 18. But after the Comcast Foundation said it would donate $100 per employee to relief agencies for every worker who participated, the number swelled to 6,100 — which translated to $610,000.
In Paducah, Ky., three work crews were dispatched to the homes of senior citizens and other shut-ins, where volunteers cleaned yards and made minor repairs. A fourth crew went to "Martha's Vineyard," a local food bank that the system has frequently helped, said local manager Ed Mount.
"It was not just employees, but they brought their family members and friends, peeling potatoes to sweeping the floors," he said. "Employees seemed to get quite a bit of satisfaction out of getting a chance to help."
Some volunteers in Washington got a sobering reminder of the reason for their efforts that day, as the bus taking them from Prince William County passed the damaged Pentagon, said Comcast Washington and Virginia regional vice president Jaye Gamble.
"That group was the most somber when [it] arrived," he said. But spirits rose once volunteers started painting and fixing up Anacostia Senior High School in southwestern Washington.
The mood improved even more when Comcast president Brian Roberts announced that $250,000 from the foundation would go to charities that are helping victims of the Pentagon attack. They include the Pentagon Assistance Fund, The District of Columbia Public Schools Memorial Fund (local school kids and teachers on a field trip were on the plane that hit the Pentagon) and The Survivors Fund.
"Everyone there that day got a mental lift," Gamble said. "By the end of the day, they all wanted to know when we would do it again."
Systems didn't have to be large, and projects didn't need to be expansive, Tuppeny-Hess said. Two employees in Livingston, Tenn., stationed themselves at the town's main intersection and spent a day collecting money for Ronald McDonald House, which provides lodging for families of chronic cancer patients.
In all, Comcast employees donated time to 126 projects.