ORLANDO, Fla., Nov. 2, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Darden Restaurants, and its family of restaurant brands that include Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, is supporting the American Red Cross as they respond to those affected by Hurricane Sandy and donating bottled water to help local families. As a member of the Red Cross' Annual Disaster Giving Program, Darden provides financial support that the Red Cross uses in disaster response. (Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20050203/FLTH026LOGO ) "Our restaurants and our restaurant teams are members of hundreds of local communities across the country," said Drew Madsen, president and COO of Darden. "And as a caring member of these communities, we're committed to serving them beyond the walls of our restaurants. By supporting the Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program, we know help is available right away for victims who need it." In addition to financial support of the Red Cross, Darden is also donating much needed drinking water in the hardest hit areas. The company is sending five tractor-trailers containing 6,000 cases of bottled water from restaurants that remain closed due to power outages to Red Cross shelters in New Jersey and New York. Darden is also responding to the needs of its employees who have been impacted by the storm. The Darden Dimes program, an employee-funded assistance program with $1.7 million in annual employee donations, is providing financial assistance to employees in need. "These communities have supported our restaurants for decades," said Gary Brown, Senior Vice President of Operations for Olive Garden. "Our restaurant teams wanted to help out right away, so we got to work immediately on re-routing these shipments of water to the local Red Cross shelters." "Thanks to the generosity of our Annual Disaster Giving Program members, the Red Cross is able to mobilize supplies and staff to provide help to people and communities in need," said Neal Litvack, chief development officer at the American Red Cross. "These contributions, along with the support of the American public, are critical during hurricanes and similar disasters because they enable the Red Cross to rush immediate relief to disaster victims before the first donation has been given." Since the Annual Disaster Giving Program's inception in 1997, members have pledged donations to the Red Cross in advance of major disasters to ensure an immediate response will meet the needs of people who are affected by disasters of all sizes, at no cost and regardless of income.