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Businesses awarded for donating time, products

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On May 13, 1985, 61 homes in Philadelphia burned to the ground during the police seige on the radical group MOVE. Lost in the fire were the personal belongings of the families living in those houses, including their financial records.

``Thousands of people were donating clothing, money, food,'' recalls Patricia Walker of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants. ``We wanted to donate our professional services.''

So the next morning, they sent Mayor Wilson Goode a letter offering to help each family reconstruct the records -- amending tax returns and figuring out for insurance purposes the inventory of what they had lost.

One CPA worked with each family, for free, ``for however long it took.'' It took about six months, though some CPAs are still working with their adopted families. No one has asked to be reimbursed, Ms. Walker says.

The Pennsylvania accountants are one of 100 corporations and associations honored by President Reagan Wednesday for their community involvement. The projects run from putting the pictures of missing children on grocery bags (Giant Food) to helping police cultivate leads in solving crimes and tracking down criminals (Columbus, Ga., Chamber of Commerce) to giving senior citizens free airline tickets so they could visit their families on holidays (Southwest Airlines).

The real story behind corporate giving is not the 13 percent increase in donations last year, to a record $4.3 billion, says Patricia Kearney, associate director of the White House Office of Private Sector Initiatives. It is that companies are using their talents -- ``bringing mainstream business practices'' -- to help their communities.

Avon Products is a case in point. Three years ago, ``We had discovered that a lot of economically disadvantaged children were under stress during the holiday season,'' says Peggy Roberts, who runs Avon's ``Christmas is for Children'' program on the East Coast. ``Not because they weren't able to receive products, but because they weren't able to give gifts to members of their family and people that they loved.''

Avon got in touch with social welfare groups in two cities, which picked out about 250 children, ages six to 13. The kids could earn up to five coupons for doing ``good deeds'' such as cleaning up areas where they lived or running errands for senior citizens. They could then buy gifts (Avon products), which ranged from $5 to $30 in value, with coupons.

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