Common, and Uncommon, Sense

On Sept. 11 last year, many people who were not directly affected by the horrific acts of murder and destruction were left wondering: What can I do to help?

For example, in Manhattan, but well uptown from the disaster area, huge lines of hopeful blood donors assembled spontaneously outside hospitals. Some people tried to help simply by staying home and staying off the overcrowded cell-phone lines.

Neither effort left one with much feeling of accomplishment — not even trying to give blood. The blood banks filled up quickly, and it turned out the destruction was so total that, sadly, there weren't that many injured survivors who needed blood.

As the days went by, smart people figured out ways to effectively channel that impulse to help — both here and around the country. Cable operators and networks were far from unique in that respect, but they made many notable efforts that continue to resonate today.

At Comcast Corp., for example, there was an immediate corporate response on the funding side. The company's Comcast Foundation offered to match every dollar employees pledged to the Red Cross or the United Way's fund. Employees ended up pledging $100,000, which became $200,000 when matched, and Comcast's QVC unit separately matched $87,000 in employee contributions, making it $174,000.

Beyond that, early on, "a lot of local [New York-area] systems said, 'What can we do?' " recalled Joe Waz, the Comcast public-affairs executive who also is the foundation's president. "There were actually some buses of volunteers who went up to New York for the early parts of the cleanup and relief effort, collecting supplies and bringing them up."

Later, when New York no longer needed volunteer labor, President Bush started advising people to pitch in by helping their neighbors. So the spirit spread to efforts scheduled for Comcast Cares Day, the first company-wide version of local programs that encouraged employees to take a day to volunteeer to work at food banks or do yard work at senior citizens' homes. Comcast went the extra step by pledging to donate cash to Sept. 11-related charities.

Instead of the 5,000 employees Comcast had hoped would volunteer, 6,100 did, leading to $610,000 in grants to such groups as the Twin Towers Fund, the Pentagon Victims Fund and the Alliance of Neighbors of Monmouth County (N.J.). Last October, CN8: The Comcast Network aired a benefit concert, in Red Bank, N.J., for the alliance, which aided the families of what The Record
of Hackensack, N.J., reported were 160 Monmouth County residents who died at the World Trade Center.

In an effort closer to the disaster site, Lifetime Television's highly visible initiatives — including providing around-the-clock volunteers serving food to rescue workers at a lower Manhattan restaurant — sprang from the CEO's talks with employees at company headquarters near Times Square last Sept. 11.

"Carole Black went to each floor in the building, to talk to each employee directly," public affairs vice president Mary Dixon said. Her first concern was for employee safety. But she kept hearing from Lifetimers, "Thanks for taking care of us, but we also want to know how we can help."

Within days, there were drives for emergency supplies, like blankets and food. Lifetime crews also went out and interviewed women involved in the efforts. That's where Dixon ran across Nino's restaurant, which was feeding firefighters and police officers, 24-7. Nino's was happy to receive volunteers, and for Lifetime managers, "This was part of the job for Lifetimers, if they wanted to volunteer."

When everyone is touched by a crisis, it's surely good management to help your people help others.

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.