November 13, 2001 11:00 pm

What a great idea! Donating some of your vacation time to the relief efforts related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Thats what many companies across the country are allowing their employees to do. Health Net Inc. is one of a growing number of companies that have launched vacation-donation programs.

The idea isnt totally unique. Many companies allow employees to donate time to a fellow employee who might have a potentially terminal disease such as cancer. The ill employee runs out of vacation and/or sick leave and employees give up a couple of days to the benefit of the employee. Toni Schiavo and Suzi Moczygemba are two employees who didnt have the money available to make a large donation to the relief efforts, so they asked their company to let them give up vacation time if the company would donate the cash to the relief effort. Employees and the company are winners in their quest to help out fellow Americans.

Even the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service are joining in by not counting such donated vacation pay as taxable income.

In most cases the programs are being run for a limited time. Kaiser Permanente employees in Oakland, Calif., donated close to $400,000 in vacation time from Sept. 24 to Oct. 5. The Red Cross and the AFL-CIO are handling these funds. Gail Florian, a payroll department employee at a health maintenance organization in Portland, donated two days of vacation, worth about $322. In Alamenda County, Calif., county workers have donated 3,145 hours of vacation time.

Perhaps another spin on this wonderful idea would be for companies to allow employees to give up vacation time to help out local charities. Since so much money already has been sent for relief efforts in New York and Washington, D.C., now might be the time to help out local organizations such as the United Way, the Salvation Army and others. With our economy teetering on a recession, more Americans will be out of work and need assistance from numerous charities. This could be a way for both corporations and employees to make a significant contribution.

Who said American ingenuity was a thing of the past? This is a creative example of how we can help those in need.


Water heaters are big consumers of energy. The Community Conservation Challenge for this week is to make water heaters more energy efficient.

Consumers can reduce energy demand by about 15 percent by setting their water heater at 120 degrees rather than 150. Another way to improve water heater efficiency is to add an insulation blanket.

When it comes to saving energy, simple steps can add up.