- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

Santa Claus, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Baby New Year mingled around the cubicles at the WorldWide Retail Exchange LLC yesterday.

Executives at the Alexandria business-to-business exchange company were forced into the festive and somewhat gaudy costumes as part of an auction that raised $13,850 for Carpenter’s Shelter, a local homeless shelter.

The shelter plans to use the money on its graduates program, which helps people become independent of homeless shelters.

The week-long auction, which ended yesterday as managers sashayed about as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, allows the company’s 130 employees to bid for a colleague to wear one of the 24 selected costumes. The bids add up, and the person with the highest amount for a certain character wins — and the individual who has to dress up loses.

Workers being bid on were allowed to counterbid to not dress up as Ebenezer Scrooge or an elf.

“I had done this at another company on a smaller scale and it was a great success there,” said Jenny Brown, a technical analyst at WorldWide who started the event in 2001.

While company executives were initially hesitant to allow workers to bid on who would wear the most embarrassing costume — Baby New Year — the holiday auction is now a permanent fixture, said marketing manager Jane Wilson.

“It’s something that employees now look forward to and save their donations for,” Ms. Wilson said.

Anna Olferiev, a three-year veteran and controller at WorldWide, saves up all year for the auction. She spent some $400 to help a co-worker opt out of bids for him to dress up as the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. By the end of the week, she had bid $1,100.

“Christmas is going to be lean and mean for my family,” Ms. Olferiev said, joking.

Unique charity events have become major moneymakers for workplaces, said Edwin D. Washington, field operations director for America’s Charities, a Chantilly, Va., federation of 104 local and national charities.

“A lot of companies that might not have done well in the last couple of years are taking another angle,” such as silent auctions for sporting events tickets, gift baskets and certificates for a paid-vacation day, Mr. Washington said.

Parking spaces close to a company’s building have become big sellers for many local corporate charity events, with bidders paying up to $300 for a spot, he added.

“Employees like getting something out of their contribution, and the increased participation really helps charities” that have been hit hard by budget cuts and declining donations in the past two years, Mr. Washington said.

About 95 percent of WorldWide’s work force contributed to the fund-raiser, many with last-minute bids that pitted department against department and boss versus assistant.

“This is an international company, so it’s really fun making some of the workers do something that is not in their nature,” said one employee, pointing at Jerome Kuehn, a general manager for the European office.

Mr. Kuehn was sporting a lacy white nightgown, plastic wings and frilly white socks as the holiday angel.

Baby New Year, actually Mark Catalano, a consultant from technology company i2 Technologies, brought in the most bids at $1,000. Mr. Catalano was decked out in a pink sweater, white tights, a top hat and makeshift diaper. Other high bidders included $600 for Ramana Palepu, chief technology officer, to dress up as the Abominable Snowman.

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