NEW YORK — Warnaco Group Inc. chief executive officer Joe Gromek has given much to the Volunteers of America over the last 15 years, and now the organization has given something to him.

Gromek received the Spirit of the Founders Award for his community involvement efforts at the group’s annual fund-raising gala Wednesday night at The Plaza, where about 350 guests helped raise $650,000.

This story first appeared in the December 14, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

He was introduced to the organization, which helps people in need, by Hearst Magazines president Michael Clinton.

“He got me into this 15 years ago,” said Gromek, as he bear-hugged Clinton before the gala.

Among the initiatives bearing Gromek’s stamp is Warnaco’s Operation Backpack program, which “provides school supplies for shelter kids going back to school,” Gromek said. “Tens of thousands of dollars have been contributed annually by Warnaco employees and matched by the Warnaco Foundation.”

Gromek said he has experienced firsthand the good work the VOA does for those in need, including families struggling with domestic violence, elder care, preschoolers with developmental problems and the homeless and mentally ill, among others.

“They treat their clients with dignity and respect, always caring and always professional,” Gromek told the gathering. “The consistent high standards maintained in over 60 facilities providing a multitude of services is truly a testament to the…commitment of the entire organization.”

The dinner, which featured a menu created by chef Todd English, included a silent auction as well as New York-themed room decoration. Tables were identified by New York landmarks — Wollman Rink, Gracie Mansion, the Lipstick Building — instead of numbers. And, instead of flowers, tables were adorned with gift baskets as centerpieces that were also auctioned to the highest bidder.

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