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Small businesses, big firms aid Sandy victims

Anna Rodriguez, manager of the Wholesale Floor Outlet

Anna Rodriguez, manager of the Wholesale Floor Outlet in Freeport, helps organize donations that have come to the company's warehouse for victims of superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 9, 2012) Credit: Linda Rosier

For more than a week Anna Rodriguez has logged in 13-hour days, volunteering a portion of her firm's 16,000-square-foot warehouse to serve as a drop-off site for donations of everything from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to gallons of bottled water -- all for superstorm Sandy's victims in Long Beach and Island Park.

As the manager of Wholesale Floor Outlet, a Freeport retailer, Rodriguez has pushed aside bolts of carpeting and bamboo flooring to provide volunteers with enough room to collect and sort donations, which they then dispatch to local venues.

"I have the space and knew I could help," said Rodriguez.

Throughout Long Island, companies of all sizes and from diverse business sectors, including banks, restaurants, law firms and health clubs, are pitching in to help those whose lives have been disrupted, if not devastated, by Sandy.

The outpouring of support has taken many forms, from gyms that have opened their doors to nonmembers for hot showers to banks that have temporarily waived fees and penalties. Firms are also cutting checks to local disaster-relief initiatives, as well as encouraging workers to open their own wallets. In addition, office lobbies, hallways and mailrooms double as collection sites for employees' donations of clothing, food and other items. And some companies are deploying their own vehicles to deliver the donated goods, despite long lines at the gas pump.

While a heartfelt desire to do good for good's sake is the motivating factor behind these deeds, there's a value-added upside to corporate philanthropy. It translates into goodwill and, potentially, more business.

"We've got so many people coming to the store [to donate] and seeing us as a flooring store that maybe they will come back to us because they see our generosity," said Rodriguez, adding that her efforts are purely altruistic.

At Mineola-based law firm Meltzer Lippe Goldstein & Breitstone Llp, partner Ira Halperin, who serves as vice chairman of the Long Island Community Foundation's board of trustees, is encouraging employees to contribute to the foundation. Employees on the firm's three floors are also competing against each other to donate the most items on Island Harvest's wish-list, which encompasses edibles and nonedibles.

"[These efforts] allow us to help the greatest number of people in the greatest number of ways," said Brendan Stanton, the firm's communications officer.

Along with providing drop-off boxes for employees to donate items, Henry Schein Inc., a Melville-based distributor of health care products and services, has joined with its suppliers and the Henry Schein Cares Foundation to commit more than $1 million in cash and health care supplies to local organizations and communities. As part of that commitment, the firm is dispatching employees, armed with toothbrushes, soaps, hand sanitizers and other items, to local fire departments, community centers and other places serving victims, said Gerry Benjamin, Schein's executive vice president and chief administrative officer.

"Our focus has been on getting the products to people [and doing] whatever it takes and however we can," even if it means waiting on gas lines for one to three hours to make deliveries, said Benjamin.

Among food merchants, Bethpage-headquartered King Kullen Grocery Co., and its supplier, Bozzuto's Inc. in Cheshire, Conn., along with some IGA supermarkets, are donating $100,000 to Long Island Cares -- in the form of $50 gift cards.

"The cards have been a blessing," said Maria Saez, executive pastor of Brentwood's Iglesia Cristiana Alumbrando El Camino (Christian Church Lighting the Way), which has already received and distributed 40 gift cards to residents who "so desperately needed to get resources."

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