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Guest Column

America still leads the world in caring

Our country may be struggling to compete economically with China, India and other rapidly developing nations, but when disaster strikes, America still leads the world in caring.

The latest example is our response to the devastating earthquakes that ravaged Haiti. One of the first world leaders on the phone rallying the rest of the world was President Obama. It is not unlike the situation a few years ago when a devastating tsunami washed out parts of Indonesia and countries along the Indian Ocean coast. President George W. Bush worked the phones getting relief to the millions left homeless and without food, water or medical supplies.

Both Presidents Obama and Bush were the pacesetters pledging more that $100 million in direct aid while dispatching our military to directly bring relief. Who can forget the U.S. Navy helicopters dropping food and water to desperate people in Indonesia?

It is not only the U.S. government that responds but the private sector as well. Within 48 hours after the earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince and its surrounding villages, American companies pledged more than $16 million in direct aid through an appeal by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its state affiliates, such as the Association of Washington Business.

It is not the first time that businesses have responded quickly. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Louisiana and Mississippi coast, U.S. businesses gave $1.4 billion in aid. Boeing and Weyerhaeuser donated $1.5 million in just the first week. Wal-Mart donated $23 million in cash and opened its stores in affected areas to provide food, water and supplies to hurricane victims.

Today, Wal-Mart is again one of the early leaders, sending a $500,000 monetary donation to Red Cross emergency relief efforts in Haiti and providing an additional $100,000 in pre-packaged food kits. Microsoft added $1.25 million in cash and in-kind donations and is encouraging people to contribute to charities providing on-the-ground aid to Haitians.

Many smaller employers also respond in times of crisis. Late last year, when four Lakewood police officers were gunned down, Northwest Embroidery in Fife embroidered thousands of hats, donated them to a Seattle radio station which collected more than $20,000 for the officers' families.

Before that, when the winter monsoons wiped out many farms and neighborhoods in Lewis, Grays Harbor and south Thurston counties, it was local businesses working side-by-side with law enforcement, firefighters, government workers, farmers, foresters and loggers to evacuate people and help rebuild the community.

The point is, Americans are caring people. They lead the way, whether it's a flood, earthquake or wildfire in our state, or a mammoth disaster like the Haiti earthquake.

Our country is unique in that we are able to instantly mobilize resources from government, non-profits and the private sector. In mere hours, American servicemen and women were working alongside volunteers from charities like World Vision, the Red Cross and Mercy Corps in the streets of Haiti while thousands of individual Americans and private companies responded immediately to help those in need.

It is this spirit of generosity that we must continue to foster and encourage. As we move forward to restore jobs and recover from one of the deepest economic downturns since the Great Depression, our leaders will realize the true value of our nation's philanthropy.

- Don C. Brunell is president

of the Association of Washington Business (www.awb.org).

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