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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 2)

Grupo León Jimenes, the biggest company in the Dominican Republic and the parent of cigarmaker La Aurora, has long supported the Dominican community, particularly in Santiago, where most Dominican cigars are made. In 1996, the company created a park for the people of Santiago next to its factory. In 2003, the company established an ultramodern museum, brimming with artifacts from the Dominican Republic and including a history of Santiago. Over the past 10 years, León Jimenes has invested money in the nation's infrastructure, helping 17,000 people in 30 tobacco-producing communities in the northwest Dominican Republic. The money went for schools, solar energy for areas without electricity, and more. It's all part of the company's motto, to contribute to "the achievement of a better nation."

Endless numbers of cigars have been given away for charity. Some of Fuente's most talented cigar rollers make the company's most elaborate smokes for charity. These cigars, made with several wrappers, impossibly complex curves and artistic twists and details, which can take days to create, are never sold at retail. President Carlos Fuente Jr. uses them for auctions to raise money for Cigar Family. Each year, the Cigar Family Web site holds an online auction of these and other rare cigars to raise money for the needy.

The Eiroas, the family behind the Camacho brand, created an entire cigar brand for charity in 1999 called Esperanza Para Los Niños, or help for the children. Christian Eiroa, vice president of the company, came up with the box-pressed cigar with a group of cigar smokers from the Internet. "We sold around 45,000 cigars on our own Web site," says Eiroa. The cigars were priced around $3 each, with half the proceeds earmarked for El Nuevo Amanecer, a school and orphanage in Honduras.

Humidors have even played a role: Davidoff of Geneva raised $10,000 for September 11 charities through the sale of humidors, including one decorated with a rendition of firemen raising the flag at the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York.

In February, a former cigar factory became a place for the most destitute homeless to find a place of refuge. A 100-year-old building in New Haven, Connecticut, where F.D. Grave cigars were once made, was transformed into Liberty Safe Haven, part of a project aimed at ending homelessness in Connecticut. Liberty Community Services is trying to raise another $750,000 to complete the project, which offers refuge to the homeless who cannot live in shelters, the type of people "that have been living under bridge embankments," said James M. Schaffer, senior development officer of the project. The stately brick building, which still carries the F.D. Grave name above the second story, is an ongoing reminder of the charity of cigarmakers.

Such charity is not always welcomed. The Fuente and Newman school was born from rejection: both companies had attempted to donate to charities in the past, but were spurned due to their being in the cigar business.

All the money raised by the Fuente and Newman efforts goes to the Cigar Family charity. The companies assume the administrative costs so that a dollar donated is a dollar given to those in need.

The towns of Caribe and the five neighboring villages were in need when the Fuentes began growing wrapper there in 1992. "When we first came here, there was no electricity, there was no water. We had no idea of the problems in the surrounding villages—we were here to grow tobacco," said Fuente, who has become immersed in the charity project along with Eric M. Newman, the president of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. The Fuentes and Newmans have a long-standing relationship: they are joint partners in Fuente & Newman Premium Cigars, which distributes both companies' handmade brands.

Not long after Fuente began making regular trips to the farm, he became aware of the level of poverty affecting the area's residents. "You realize you have a responsibility to help these children in some way."


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