Wall Street Journal & Prudential | June 19, 2018 | Link to Article
Coming in From the Storm: The Home Depot Foundation
The Home Depot Foundation is very receptive to listening to the needs of wounded service members...
Coming in From the Storm: The Home Depot Foundation
When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August of 2017, the number of natural disasters was already on the rise, along with the cost in damages.
The final count for weather-related disasters in America in 2017 was three tropical cyclones, eight severe storms, two inland floods, a crop freeze and several instances of drought and wildfire—the highest number of billion-dollar disasters in a single year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).1
Damages for Hurricane Harvey so far are estimated at $125 billion, making it second only to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.2
Through good times and bad, a home is something we rely on as a financial bedrock, but what happens to those people unlucky enough to live in the path of a devastating hurricane or somewhere vulnerable to extreme flooding?
When natural disasters strike, the private sector often steps in to show its corporate values extend beyond what affects the bottom line. Corporations are often among the first to offer support to victims with direct donations of food, supplies and funds, as well as contributions to relief agencies such as the American Red Cross.
The Home Depot, for one, takes an active role in helping storm-distressed homeowners, especially U.S. veterans, through its Home Depot Foundation, a nonprofit that partners with the Red Cross, Operation Blessing, Habitat for Humanity and U.S. VETS, among others, to rebuild and refurnish homes.
“Home Depot’s support, both through financial backing and volunteer hours, has allowed us to serve veterans of every service branch from as far back as World War II, all across the country,” says Colleen Finn Ridenhour, senior vice president of development for Habitat for Humanity International.
The foundation also steps in to help vets and their families with smaller projects, such as ramp installation or fence repair. Last year, the foundation donated $4.6 million to support hurricane victims.
“The Home Depot Foundation is very receptive to listening to the needs of wounded service members,” says Susan Rocco, vice president of case management at Semper Fi Fund, which aids service members and their families. Since 2011, the Home Depot Foundation has helped the Fund provide adaptive equipment for the homes of our service members, helped with home repairs and enlisted a host of volunteers from local Home Depot stores. “The Home Depot employees come out and work on our service members’ homes,” Rocco says.
Employees Pitch In
The company’s employees also actively support this volunteer spirit. Shannon Gerber, the foundation’s executive director, credits Team Depot, which she describes as a 400,000-member “army of orange-blooded associates,” for much of the Foundation’s relief effort.
Well before the hurricane season starts, Team Depot starts planning to stay ahead of the weather. They stock dedicated warehouses with supplies and identify areas likely to be affected, all in an effort to ensure deliveries roll out efficiently. After a tornado or flood occurs, the team determines the emergency relief a community needs, so that food, water, gloves, tarps, tools and other essentials can be quickly distributed.
Often, it’s Team Depot associates who play a valuable role in alerting the organization to those in greatest need. In one case, associates directed urgent aid to a woman in Houston who was forced out of her house due to Hurricane Harvey and was living in a rented car.
Volunteers carry out a variety of practical tasks related to restoring a home, such as removing damaged sheetrock, carpeting and insulation, and most importantly, helping the family sort through a lifetime of possessions and the priceless memories associated with them. Their time commitment can be as short as a day and as long as a month, with most volunteering for a couple of weeks, says Jody Gettys, vice president of U.S. disaster relief and programs for Operation Blessing, which partners with the Home Depot Foundation. And they also lend emotional support.
“Gutting a waterlogged home and discarding everything a family owns, especially items that money cannot replace, is heart-wrenching,” Gettys says. “These are the painful first steps,” she adds. “Volunteers spend time simply listening—letting residents know they’re not alone and not forgotten.”
When the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey started rising, a neighbor alerted Allen Abshire, 79, an army veteran living in Port Arthur, Texas, to the water streaming into his house. Abshire’s calls to the police and 911 went unanswered.
“My house was completely flooded,” he recalls. “I lost everything.”
Abshire, who served in the Korean War, spent several weeks in motels while the Home Depot Foundation and Operation Blessing helped rebuild and refurnish his home.
On homecoming day, Abshire recalls, about 80 people, including half a dozen photographers, were standing in his front yard saying, “Welcome home, Mr. Allen.” He wondered why so many photographers were on hand. “We want to see your expression,” they told him.
“The only expression you’re going to see is a big smile on my face,” he said. “When I went into my house, everything was brand-new. And every night, I pray for everyone who helped put my house back together.”
“When a private company helps out in a community, whether after a natural disaster or simply by volunteering at a local food bank, it touches people’s hearts,” Gettys says. “To see the compassion in the representatives, when people are broken and devastated—there’s such power in that. They will remember your company was there for them for the rest of their lives.”
Volunteerism can also create a ripple effect within a community, according to Gettys. “When you see a group of volunteers, whether it’s large or small, those moments can become catalysts within their own community. People want to jump in and make a difference,” Gettys says.
“Helping people is part of The Home Depot culture,” Gerber says. She notes that Home Depot’s founders developed eight values—including giving back and doing the right thing—that can be seen printed on every employee’s apron.
The company’s associates “embody those values when they move out of the aisles to serve their communities,” Gerber says.
Content paid for by Prudential.
- 1. “2017 U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: A Historic Year in Context,” Jan. 2018, climate.gov
- 2. “2017 U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: A Historic Year in Context,” Jan. 2018, climate.gov