The party's over

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The party's over

Tis the season for endless partying. 'Tis also the season for Salvation Army bells and charitable contributions. Most companies opt for the former by holding big, boozy, expensive bashes. But some firms this year are reverting to charitable events as a way to bid adieu to 2002.

Whether it is selling used items, donating money or visiting the elderly and needy, foreign multinational companies are setting the standard for giving their time and effort to other people instead of downing beer, soju and platters of galbi.

Some firms participate in charitable activities the year-round, but most are finding that this time of year is the best time of year to do good deeds.

On a recent Saturday, employees and executives of Agfa Korea, a film manufacturer, are gathered at the Beautiful Store, a second-hand goods shop in Anguk-dong, to give away their used items and to be store clerks for a day. Inside the store, which sells everything from used clothes to books, CDs, kitchenware, dolls and ornaments, customers and volunteers have packed the place, barely leaving room to wander around. One customer, Jang In-suk, says, "I came here because there are good bargains. Plus, the proceeds go to charity. It's a meaningful thing."

Agfa Korea employees decided to help out at the Beautiful Store every quarter, and by holding photo exhibitions and giving away the proceeds.

This day was the second time Agfa employees have volunteered at the Beautiful Store and they are busily tending to customers who crowd the small shop. "Agfa has decided to participate in this movement as part of a long-term campaign of giving back to society. We have decided to give 1 percent of our net income to social causes," says Lee Eun-jeong, an Agfa Korea publicist.

Jeong Sang-jin, the executive director of Agfa Korea, has joined his staff in selling clothes and dolls that employees contributed. "As businesses do well, it's only fitting that we give back. Instead of sending all our profits abroad, we've decided to give something to Korea," he says.

Mr. Jeong holds up a jacket and shouts, "Only 5,000 won! Very cheap!" Customers smile and move toward the jacket and other clothes that the company has donated.

Civic groups founded the Beautiful Store in October of this year. Partner firms of the store include Kim & Chang, Unilever, Olympic Parktel, and Kimyoungsa, a publishing firm. And Agfa has now pledged to become a "partner company" to the shop, contributing to stock and volunteering with the sales.

"Agfa decided to cooperate with the Beautiful Foundation as a long-term charity project," says Elizabeth Bae, a publicist for Agfa. "This year, a large, company-wide, end-of-year party for employees won't be held, though divisions may hold small gatherings."

Wal-Mart Korea's community involvement team, comprising employees from 14 branches, has actively undertaken various charitable activities in the past few months. Wal-Mart's Ilsan branch participated in kimchi-making for two days early this month at the Ilsan YMCA to help needy and elderly folks in the neighborhood.

This year, Wal-Mart Korea will skip its annual December blowout. Instead, the year-end will provide employees with numerous charitable activities. On Monday, Wal-Mart Korea's Gangnam branch will visit Yeongdong Severance Hospital's pediatrics department to entertain children on the ward. Employees are to dress up like Santa Claus and give presents to children patients.

Last October, 44 members of the Gangnam branch donated blood to patients at Yeongdong Severance Hospital. In return, the Severance Hospital gave Wal-Mart Korea a plaque honoring their volunteer services. Karl Lee, a publicist for Wal-Mart, says, "We intend to continue with volunteer activities throughout the year and not just limit what we do to the end of year."

Instead of a brassy and loud farewell-to-2002 celebration, Allianz Life Inurance is providing medical fees for children with heart disease, something the company has been doing since 1995. A portion of the profits from a company insurance program has been set aside to be donated to a special fund for the Children's Protection Foundation of Korea. Almost $58,000 has been donated to this fund and 186 children have had surgeries paid for.

Allianz will not have an end-of year shindig. Michel Campeanu, CEO of the insurance firm, says, "We will continue to support our public welfare programs as we grow together with the Korean community."

McDonald's Korea will contribute a portion of its profits this season to the Community Chest of Korea, an organization that assists malnourished children.

Each month, members of Prudential Corporation Asia Friends, the financial services firm's volunteer group, visit the Seocho Elderly Welfare Center in Jamwon-dong. They help paint walls, repair windows and comfort the inhabitants of the elderly shelter. Ryu Han-seong, a financial consultant who joined the volunteer initiative said, "Although it's hard work spending nearly eight hours listening to elderly folks, I feel a sense of fulfillment helping these people. That feeling sure beats hard labor." About 30 employees have participated in the endeavor.

Female employees at Novartis Korea, a Swiss-based pharmaceuticals company, have formed an internal volunteer group and has decided to raise money for "Hansarang Village," a disabled children's home in Gwangju, Gyeonggi province.

This is the first time that Novartis has run the company-wide program, and the company is finding that this time of year brings in more contributions from employees.

Erom Life, an alternative foodstuff manufacturer, is providing Saengsik, a powdered form of dried minerals and grains, to the elderly who live alone. In a joint effort with Korea Social Welfare Foundation, Erom employees have pledged to make regular visits to the elderly and hold special events for them.

Jeong Mi-jeong, the president of Erom Life, says, "In our aging society, the number of elderly people who live alone is increasing, and they suffer from health problems and a lack of material goods. We have decided to help these people by helping them to improve their health."

Marche Korea, a chain of family restaurants, has halted its seasonal party, and pledged to help day care centers on a quarterly basis. The company invites children to their restaurant on special occasions. Marche's Bundang branch has signed a sister pact with St. John's House, an orphanage in the nearby district, that calls for employees to regularly visit the orphanage to play with the children.

Kang You-sun, a senior consultant for Synergy Communications, says, "Because this is the season for charity, companies are finding that undertaking charity events at this time of year is also a good opportunity to enhance their corporate image."

by Choi Jie-ho

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