There’s quite a lot going on around the world – now and every day – that makes me pause and remember how fortunate I am to have a healthy family, live in a warm house and have a good job. If you do a quick scan of the newspaper, and really think about what the reports are telling us about the lives other people are living – think about them in not in terms of numbers, but in terms of individuals with families, friends and emotions – it can get overwhelming fairly quickly. All of this sounds cliche, I realize, but if you come at it rationally, you might come to the conclusion that whatever you do is never going to be enough.
Another way to come at it, as many have done for centuries, is to take care of your own first. Often that means your family. I think in many ways that makes good sense – a family takes care of itself and then doesn’t need to look outside for help. You also know your family, so perhaps you are better able to see what will be most helpful to them. At The Home Depot, that’s exactly what we do. And we have a lot of people in our family, about 300,000 in fact.
Because we are so big, we had to create a structure for our home-grown charity, and we call it The Homer Fund after the company’s mascot, Homer (you may remember him – overalls and baseball cap with a big nose). The Fund is an amazing demonstration of how a company’s values, such as providing outstanding customer service and giving back to our communities, can remain core to its culture, even as it grows at an astounding rate. Our core values include taking care of our associates, which means taking care of our family.
The Homer Fund provides emergency assistance to our associates when they need it – when they can’t pay their basic living expenses because of an unforeseen situation, like an illness or accident or a natural disaster. Grants from the Fund provide a bridge for our associates to help them get over the rough spots they encounter. To help illustrate what we do, imagine an associate’s husband or child becomes sick, she misses work, meaning she misses her paycheck, and has to pay for the doctor and prescriptions. Maybe she also has to pay to eat and park at the hospital for a few days. It can all snowball very quickly, and it’s not unusual for her to find that her rent money has been eaten up by these unexpected bills when the first of the month comes round. That’s where the Fund can step in and help her get caught up on her bills and relieve the financial stress so she can focus on her family. On top of that, if her co-workers pass the hat to help her out, the Fund will even match the amount raised $2 for $1. It’s an amazing program – one that helped more than 7,300 associates and their families in 2009, with grants of $11.1 million. Each one of the 35,000 associates who has been helped by the Fund since 1999 has a story – a very personal, often heartbreaking story – and because of the Fund, many of those stories had a far happier ending than they otherwise would have.
But that’s not the really cool thing. The really cool – almost unbelievable fact – is that the Fund is a charity supported exclusively by associates of The Home Depot (The Home Depot Foundation contributes to the Fund by matching donations made by associates). Fully 64% – that’s 180,000 individuals – contribute to The Homer Fund. They support it because they can see the difference it has made in the lives of their co-workers – their friends. They understand the situations their friends are facing and know that a little help at the right moment will go a very long way. The power of the Fund isn’t in large contributions or huge grants amounts, but in everyone coming together to give what they can to take care of each other. Most are giving a dollar or two out of their paycheck every two weeks. Some of them can’t afford more than that, but that’s what you do to help family.