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Pittsburgh Foundation 

One Year After the Hurricanes: How a Pittsburgh Company Gave Back


Reprinted with permission from The Pittsburgh Foundation (Fall 2006)

PPG Industries, an international paint, glass and chemicals company headquartered in Pittsburgh, has nearly 1,500 workers, one major manufacturing facility and seven stores in the Gulf Coast region that were ravaged by the hurricanes.

“Before last year, we had never shut down a plant due to natural disaster,” said Sue Sloan, Senior Program Officer at the PPG Industries Foundation, a charitable arm of PPG Industries. “After Hurricane Rita, our Lake Charles, Louisiana, plant was so damaged that it had to shut down for 13 days and operate at reduced rates for the next five weeks.”

When the breadth of the devastation was realized, the company, along with many employees, retirees and friends, mobilized to help organize relief for their colleagues. Sue was charged with creating a permanent fund that would provide aid to PPG employees affected by disaster situations.

She knew it would be difficult for the PPG Industries Foundation to give back to its own employees. Rather than deal with the long and arduous process of starting a new nonprofit organization, she sought a like-minded partner organization with the knowledge, experience and expertise to quickly set up and execute the fund. She found it in The Pittsburgh Foundation.

“The Pittsburgh Foundation really stepped up to the challenge, and helped establish guidelines, criteria and a selection committee to collect and distribute money quickly,” said Sue. “The general feeling was that we just wanted to help these people.” 

The Zoerner Family: Brian, Tina, Brian Jr. and Logan

The PPG Concern, Assistance and Relief for Employees (CARE) Fund was created at The Pittsburgh Foundation, and employees, retirees and friends of PPG Industries from all over the country began contributing. The PPG Industries Foundation provided a 1-1 match for every dollar up to $10,000 that employees donated to the fund.

ADVISORY COMMITTEE
In June, The Pittsburgh Foundation was able to distribute $116,000 to PPG employees, each of whom had incurred over $15,000 in damages due to Hurricanes Katrina and/or Rita, and even one employee whose home was damaged by the Evansville, Indiana, tornado. Combined damages of award recipients were over $1.2 million.

The Pittsburgh Foundation appointed an advisory committee made up of its Board members and a community representative to review requests and recommend grants to PPG employees whose lives were devastated by the disaster. “This process enabled PPG Industries and the PPG Industries Foundation to channel the money without influencing the decision-making process,” explained Sue.

Twenty-two PPG employees received grant awards for urgent needs that FEMA or personal insurance money couldn’t or wouldn’t cover, such as household furniture or equipment, clothing, and temporary living and transportation costs.

One such employee was Brian Zoerner, a salesman at a PPG Monarch paint store in New Orleans and 28-year-old father of two whose home was destroyed when Hurricane Katrina ripped through his Chalmette, La., house.

Brian left just days before Katrina, packing his then-pregnant wife and four-year-old son in the car with only three changes of clothes, his family’s social security cards and his son’s birth certificate.

Two months later, after being moved all over the country, he moved to Mandeville, La., after receiving an offer from PPG Industries to relocate.

It wasn’t until his family settled in Mandeville that he could finally make a trip back to his former home. What he found, he said, was “disgusting and heartbreaking.” Water had flooded the entire house, soaking and destroying everything in its path. His truck, abandoned in the driveway in order to keep the family in one car, was water-logged. There was a boat in his front yard that didn’t belong to him, or any of his neighbors.

“When I walked in the house I just prayed my son’s room wasn’t entirely destroyed,” said Brian. “I wanted to bring him back something familiar.”

He was able to salvage a few things, but Brian doubts whether he and his family will ever be able to return to their home southeast of New Orleans. “This has been the hardest time of my life, but I still have my family and that’s all that matters,” he said.

Brian received $7,500 from the PPG CARE Fund, more than he received from his own insurance company. It helped him move and make payments for the apartment he now rents with his wife and two sons, a toddler and a newborn. The PPG CARE Fund still holds over $200,000 after its first round of grantmaking, and it will continue to collect donations and award money to employees in need due to disaster situations.

“While I would like to believe that a disaster the size and scope of last year’s hurricanes and tornado will never happen again, it’s a very realistic possibility,” said Sue. “Now, we feel prepared to provide for our employees should it happen again.”
 
“Words cannot express the gratitude we have for each and every person involved with this from PPG Industries and The Pittsburgh Foundation,” said Brian. “They came through for us when we needed it most.”

The PPG Concern, Assistance and Relief for Employees (CARE) Fund was created at The Pittsburgh Foundation, and employees, retirees and friends of PPG Industries from all over the country began contributing. The PPG Industries Foundation provided a 1-1 match for every dollar up to $10,000 that employees donated to the fund. In June, The Pittsburgh Foundation was able to distribute $116,000 to PPG employees, each of whom had incurred over $15,000 in damages due to Hurricanes Katrina and/or Rita, and even one employee whose home was damaged by the Evansville, Indiana, tornado. Combined damages of award recipients were over $1.2 million. The Pittsburgh Foundation appointed an advisory committee made up of its Board members and a community representative to review requests and recommend grants to PPG employees whose lives were devastated by the disaster. “This process enabled PPG Industries and the PPG Industries Foundation to channel the money without influencing the decision-making process,” explained Sue. Twenty-two PPG employees received grant awards for urgent needs that FEMA or personal insurance money couldn’t or wouldn’t cover, such as household furniture or equipment, clothing, and temporary living and transportation costs. One such employee was Brian Zoerner, a salesman at a PPG Monarch paint store in New Orleans and 28-year-old father of two whose home was destroyed when Hurricane Katrina ripped through his Chalmette, La., house. Brian left just days before Katrina, packing his then-pregnant wife and four-year-old son in the car with only three changes of clothes, his family’s social security cards and his son’s birth certificate. Two months later, after being moved all over the country, he moved to Mandeville, La., after receiving an offer from PPG Industries to relocate. It wasn’t until his family settled in Mandeville that he could finally make a trip back to his former home. What he found, he said, was “disgusting and heartbreaking.” Water had flooded the entire house, soaking and destroying everything in its path. His truck, abandoned in the driveway in order to keep the family in one car, was water-logged. There was a boat in his front yard that didn’t belong to him, or any of his neighbors. “When I walked in the house I just prayed my son’s room wasn’t entirely destroyed,” said Brian. “I wanted to bring him back something familiar.” He was able to salvage a few things, but Brian doubts whether he and his family will ever be able to return to their home southeast of New Orleans. “This has been the hardest time of my life, but I still have my family and that’s all that matters,” he said. Brian received $7,500 from the PPG CARE Fund, more than he received from his own insurance company. It helped him move and make payments for the apartment he now rents with his wife and two sons, a toddler and a newborn. The PPG CARE Fund still holds over $200,000 after its first round of grantmaking, and it will continue to collect donations and award money to employees in need due to disaster situations. “While I would like to believe that a disaster the size and scope of last year’s hurricanes and tornado will never happen again, it’s a very realistic possibility,” said Sue. “Now, we feel prepared to provide for our employees should it happen again.” “Words cannot express the gratitude we have for each and every person involved with this from PPG Industries and The Pittsburgh Foundation,” said Brian. “They came through for us when we needed it most.”