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Cigars For Hope

Cigarmakers and their customers have a warm heart for the needy
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Jimmy Smits, May/June 2005

(continued from page 1)

Realizing that hurricanes such as Georges were an all-too-regular event in the areas where it makes cigars, Altadis then created a nonprofit charity for ongoing hurricane relief that it dubbed the World of Montecristo Relief Organization. Since the group's creation in 1999, Altadis has raised more than $750,000 through the organization, much of it via the annual Montecristo Cup pro-am golf tournament, in which amateur golfers are paired up with star players from golf's Champion's Tour. Cash is also raised with a charity auction.

This year, Altadis is adding store promotions with cigar retailers to bolster the monies raised by the foundation. The plans for those promotions weren't final at press time.

Money raised by Montecristo goes to various aid agencies to help the needy in and around the areas where Altadis produces cigars. The cash has helped rebuild schools in La Romana and pay for scholarships to allow the poor to attend school beyond the eighth grade, and is currently being used to build a kindergarten in Honduras. In northern Honduras, six single mothers, each with two to six children, now have new homes thanks to Altadis. The company gave money to the Lions Club, which built the homes out of cement block. The modest but sturdy structures are far better than the norm for the deprived in that part of the world.

The biggest modern disaster to strike tobacco lands occurred only one month after Hurricane Georges. While Georges was devastating, it paled in comparison to Mitch. One of the strongest hurricanes ever spawned in the Atlantic, the storm ironically did its worst damage when it weakened and then stalled, dumping three feet of rain in one hellish week over Honduras and Nicaragua and killing some 9,000 in mudslides and floods. The rains swept away homes and bridges and destroyed roads, leaving portions of the already poor countries in ruin. Among the most abjectly affected areas was Estelí, the town where most Nicaraugan cigars are made.



Padrón Cigars Inc. immediately sent out a call for aid, changing its ad for the February 1999 issue of Cigar Aficionado. Instead of advertising the company's cigar, the page was stark white, with the word Help centered in black. The company also sent letters to retailers.

The readers of Cigar Aficionado, cigar shop owners and others opened their wallets for the needy of Nicaragua. "We raised $157,000," said Jorge Padrón, president of the company. That kind of money goes a long way in that part of Nicaragua. The funds were given to the Catholic Church, which bought a plot of land and built 35 clean, solid homes for those left with nothing, giving them a chance to begin anew. "It was great," says Padrón. "It was a big deal."

Nick Perdomo, president of Tabacalera Perdomo, which also makes cigars in Estelí, said at the time of the storm that 70 percent of his workforce lost their homes to Mitch and three died of leptospirosis, a disease caused by drinking contaminated water. He opened the factory to workers who needed shelter, provided blood tests and vaccinations to prevent the spread of disease, and sent much needed aid from the United States. "We sent down two 40-foot containers loaded with medicines, clothing and dried foods," said Perdomo. "We also made a contribution of over $50,000. The two containers were sent directly from us, and the Nicaraguan government charged us over $8,000 in taxes. It was worth it because we know it got to the people. Our whole staff, including [my wife] Janine and the kids handed out everything personally to the people. We truly learned how fortunate we are, especially my kids. We feel blessed that we were able to do this."

Sometimes cigar companies extend charity to areas that don't make cigars. When floods tore through Haiti, a country that borders the Dominican Republic, General Cigar Co. and its workers helped. General Cigar and the Connecticut tobacco grower O.J. Thrall donated medicine, food and bottled water to the Haitian victims. Employees of General Cigar Dominicana also donated a day's pay to the needy of Haiti. "I am especially pleased by the way in which our employees voluntarily decided to donate a day's wage to the relief effort, although none of us lost family or friends in the tragedy," saidModesta Fondeur, General Cigar Dominicana's senior vice president of tobacco and operations. The flood relief was one of many charities supported by General.

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