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Donations Valued in the Millions Run From Mundane to Exotic : Firms Help Make Papal Tour a Success

September 16, 1987|NANCY RIVERA BROOKS | Times Staff Writer

The Auth family has sold cars to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and local Catholic churches for years. Indeed, "Catholic family owned and operated since 1917," proclaims the regular advertisement for the family's Kaiser Bros. Oldsmobile-Honda that runs in the archdiocese's weekly newspaper.

But the Auths never thought they would be called to provide 40 Oldsmobiles to follow the Pope down the streets of Los Angeles. "They asked us if we would help out, and we said, 'Of course,' " said Steve Auth, general manager of Kaiser Bros.

Picture nearly 80 Carl's Jr. employees slapping roast beef on buns to include in some 8,000 lunches for volunteers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Dodger Stadium Masses. Then there are the donated flowers and plants--thousands of them. And a couple of local mortuaries have given their best limousines for a few days of glory.

The Los Angeles visit of Pope John Paul II has mobilized not only police and governmental agencies, but local business as well. Dozens of primarily Southern California companies are donating materials, goods and time worth uncounted millions of dollars to ensure that the Pope's tour is a hit.

"The success of this and our being able to stay within our budget is completely dependent on being able to get people to donate time and materials," said Father Joseph Battaglia, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Their budget for the event is about $2.5 million, he said.

"It's just unbelievable what we've gotten away with," quipped Father Rod Stephens, liturgical environment committee chairman who designed the altar used during the Mass at the Coliseum. Nearly everything associated with that event was donated or provided at huge discounts, he said. "The sums would have to be in the millions and millions if you paid full price," Stephens said.

From the mundane--buses, ice cream and delivery services--to the sublime--fine art and a "space frame" sculpture to be suspended above the Coliseum altar--contributions from businesses have been numerous. And unlike the 1984 Olympics, where banners and logos underscored official corporate generosity, the companies this time are toiling in general anonymity.

MCA, for one, donated the use of the Universal Amphitheater for a Tuesday meeting with young Catholics, plus proceeds from parking and concessions, without the sort of fanfare that might accompany a large charitable gift. And three Universal Studios tour trams packed with police were part of Tuesday's papal parade.

"I imagine one of the reasons (for the low profile) would be good taste," a company spokesperson said.

"It was agreed at the beginning that nobody would be the official florist of the Pope's visit," said Michael Bradley, execu tive vice president of the Southern California Floral Assn., which coordinated the forces of growers, florists and designers to provide flowers for both Masses and the rooms and lobbies of hotels where dignitaries are staying. Monrovia Nursery provided many of the plants for the Mass sites.

"We're talking tens of thousands of dollars worth of flowers and over 100 designers," Bradley said. "It's probably the biggest thing we've done."

"It's not a commercial activity," said Patrick Flynn, a spokesman for Anaheim-based Carl's Jr., which is also providing about 2,000 free breakfasts for volunteers during the papal visit. "It's more supporting a worthy cause."

Carl's Jr. founder "Carl Karcher, of course, is a prominent Catholic layman, and that probably had something to do with his enthusiasm and support of the Pope's visit," Flynn said. In all, he estimated, the Carl's Jr. contribution is worth about $20,000.

While the traditional separation between church and state doesn't apply to corporate America, businesses "tend to stay away from religious giving," said Linda Platzer, senior research associate with the Conference Board, a corporate-sponsored business research group based in New York.

In 1984, the last time the Conference Board collected such data, the 415 businesses surveyed contributed slightly more than $500,000 to religious causes of the total $4 billion in corporate charitable contributions that year. Businesses probably have never given much more to religious causes than the $1.5 million of the total $2.84 billion in corporate contributions recorded in 1978, she said.

Cooperation Needed

Of the Pope's visit, said Universal City Studios Senior Vice President Daniel E. Slusser, "What's not to support? It's one of those rare occasions."

The papal tour required a good deal of cooperation from the businesses involved. Those 8,000 bagged lunches, for example, included contributions from Coca-Cola, Dreyers Ice Cream and Sam Perricone Citrus Co.

One of the earliest contributors was Bissell Architects in Newport Beach, which for the last year has provided a spot for Father Stephens to work, as well as technical assistance.

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