After Mylene Flippe's son went to jail and his children's mother left the kids alone, Flippe couldn't let the kids now under her care miss Christmas.
"I've been struggling, and it's only through the grace of God that my babies are eating," Flippe said, waiting for a ride home from her expedition to the Giving Tree charity.
The Greater Chattanooga Corporate Volunteer Council, a group of company volunteer coordinators, gathered clothes, toys and other gifts for the Giving Tree, which donates the presents to anyone who couldn't get help from other local groups.
The council, which represents a number of local companies, is just one way corporations are teaming with charities to benefit both businesses and local residents. Corporations get publicity generating good will while charities receive gift dollars.
The benefits were quite tangible for Flippe. Of the five children in her house, two are teens. That age group is often overlooked by donors, she said. The Giving Tree filled in that gap, giving her some clothes to tuck under the tree for the boys.
This year, the Giving Tree helped about 100 families, up 20 from last year to close out what's been a particularly giving year.
Several local charities saw bumps in donations not just this holiday season but all year. Brent Taylor, vice president of resource development at Chattanooga's United Way, attributes a lot of that success to corporate giving.
"I'm not saying it's easy, but we're blessed," he said. "It's the environment of Chattanooga. It's what we've created and put upon ourselves as a giving community."
The recession continues to keep corporate belts pulled tight, but charities are finding companies can find room to give.
ALIGNING WITH MISSION
"Almost without exception they're seeing a much more strategic, business-motivated model in the corporate funding that comes to their organizations than what they used to see 15 or 20 years ago," said Greg Rumsey, a professor at Southern Adventist University who has studied corporate philanthropy. "Most companies are needing to be more responsive to their shareholders and more accountable for the bottom line, and they need to see some business benefits coming back to them in the dollars that they give."
That shifting philanthropy philosophy doesn't mean corporate giving is motivated by greed, but that companies seek out causes that align with their corporate goals.
"Companies, along with expecting some return in their investment, are now willing to develop a more long-term relationship," Rumsey said. "The nonprofits in general that I've talked with said they really value that kind of relationship."
Giving to charity can get a corporation's name out there and generate some immediate good will. But long-term benefits to both local residents and a company can be even more substantial.
For example, a publishing company supporting neighborhood children's reading programs stands to benefit from literacy rates improving over the years.
"It's not what I would call random acts of kindness," said Pete Cooper, president of the Chattanooga Community Foundation. "It's more connectedness."
Chattanooga went through a period when corporate headquarters moved out of town, hurting corporate giving, Cooper said.
Lately there's been a swing back toward local offices having more authority, allowing business leaders to target their charitable dollars.
CraftWorks Restaurants & Brewery is one of those locally headquartered businesses. Over the past eight years, it has raised $850,000 partnering with Chattanooga's Kids on the Block to run the Southern Brewers Festival, and it has raised hundreds of thousands more for other groups through different charity events.
Kelly Wilson, the CraftWorks employee who heads the Brewers Festival, said partnering with charities helps drive people to events where chunks of the proceeds go to the organizations. Through those kinds of activities, her company raises and donates about half a million dollars every year.
"You have to feed the community you live in," she said. "Yes, potentially we could do things and never give back, but that's not our philosophy."
Several other local organizations seem to have a similar outlook. McKee Foods, for example, lets employees opt into payroll deductions for donations to United Way. Those donations are matched by the corporation.
Those payroll deductions are United Way's bread and butter. About 675 local corporations are involved in the program.
But for many charity recipients, holiday gift donations can be just as important. Employees of Chattanooga-based insurer Unum adopt families around the holidays, buying and wrapping the presents on their wish lists.
Flippe was thankful for those kind of donations. She's struggled to find services to get her kids presents, but leading up to today she was confident she'd give her kids a good Christmas. She knew they'd be doing the same for her.
"They only have me right now," she said. "They keep an old lady laughing all the time."