The faces of two missing children will appear on the sides of milk cartons seen by thousands of Southern Californians beginning Monday.
In cooperation with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Alta-Dena Dairy will print photographs of the two missing youngsters on more than 400,000 half-gallon cartons of milk, its entire monthly production of the two-quart containers.
Alta-Dena was the first major milk distributor to respond affirmatively to an appeal by Sheriff Sherman Block and Assemblyman Gray Davis (D-Los Angeles). Responses from the other distributors are pending.
The two youngsters whose photographs and descriptions will appear on the first Alta-Dena cartons are Doria Paige Yarbrough, 13, who was last seen near her home in the Lancaster area on Nov. 11, and Monica Judith Bonilla, 7, who disappeared from her home in Burbank on Sept. 22. Doria is believed to be a runaway, and Monica was allegedly kidnaped by her father, Block said.
In a separate but similar effort, Swiss Dairies in San Diego will begin printing photographs of missing children on its milk cartons in early February, a spokesman said. One of the first children to be included will be Laura Ann Bradbury, the 3-year-old Huntington Beach girl who disappeared from her family's campsite in Joshua Tree National Monument on Oct. 18.
"The more exposure given to these kids, the greater the probability of returning them to their families," Block said at a news conference at the Los Angeles Press Club.
He said that more than 3,700 children were reported missing to the Sheriff's Department during 1984. Although 98% of them are runaways and most return home within a few days, officials last year found no trace of 150 youngsters, he said. Since 1980, 1,600 children have been unaccounted for in the county. The majority of those who are not runaways are kidnaped by a family member, Block said.
The photographs on the Alta-Dena milk cartons will be changed monthly. But if foul play is suspected in a disappearance, that child's picture will be posted immediately, Block said.
"This is a shot in the dark," said the sheriff. "But it can't be anything but helpful."
Harold Stueve, partner and founder of Alta-Dena Dairy, who attended the news conference, said the plan is "one definite step forward to eliminating the problem."
The idea came from a similar program that began in Chicago two weeks ago, Block said.
Walter Woodbury, president of Hawthorne Melody Inc., the largest dairy distributor in the Midwest, proposed the idea to Chicago police after he saw a carton of milk in Des Moines, Iowa, bearing the faces and descriptions of two missing newsboys.
"If we can do it in Chicago, you could do it in L.A.," Woodbury said in a telephone interview Thursday. "I will hit the moon when one kid is returned."
Chicago police said they have not located the two children featured on this month's milk cartons, but that people are becoming more conscious of the plight of missing children.
"We have received several calls from people with leads," said Sgt. Michael McCotter. "And the Chicago Transit Authority will start a poster program because of what we're doing."
McCotter said the Police Department is optimistic about the program and that "Chicago has received it very enthusiastically."
In Los Angeles, sponsors said they are hoping to generate that same kind of support.
"It (the program) will make a critical difference in finding these children," said Assemblyman Davis.
To augment the program, Davis said he will appeal to milk distributors in Northern California and will introduce legislation next week that seeks stiffer penalties for child stealing.