Hands Across America has been taking some heat, mostly from dubious media people but also from citizens who question whether this is the way to deal with pervasive social problems, especially in the United States.
Here is how Fred Droz deals with some of the more persistent of those questions:
Question: Isn't it a little bizarre to move from a program to feed the people of a poverty-stricken continent like Africa to a similar program for an affluent country like the United States?
Answer: I'm not unaware of the anachronism of companion efforts to feed hungry people in the world's poorest nations and the world's richest nation. But that needs to be qualified. Sure, the United States is rich, but it is also the only Western industrial nation that has a critical problem with hunger.
Q: Shouldn't that be the government's problem? Isn't Hands Across America taking the federal government off the hook by performing a job the government should do?
A: However any of us involved with this project feels about whether or not the government is doing enough to feed its hungry citizens is irrelevant. This country has always had a history of private-sector initiative. There has always been private help in funding culture and art, and civic and service clubs have always been involved in social action, especially in smaller communities. The United States has a strong, sprawling sense of offering help wherever it's needed--and whether or not the government should be doing more to alleviate domestic hunger is an issue that will be pushed out for the country to weigh as awareness of this problem grows.
We have three stated goals for Hands Across America: to form a continuous line of 6 to 10 million people across America, to raise $100 million for domestic hunger and to increase awareness of this issue. And I want to make it very clear that this is a nonpartisan event.
Q: Do some people also see it as a plaything for entertainers--and a chance for them to gain favorable publicity?
A: One of the things that has surprised me the most in the field is that the people have taken this over. They don't mind having celebrities as part of the crowd, but they emphatically see it as their event.
Q: What about reports that money and reservations aren't coming in very fast, that less than $1 million was committed by the end of January? Is that accurate?
A: It's irrelevant. Is $1 million by Jan. 30 good or bad? Is it ahead of schedule or behind schedule? Up to this point, we've had very little advertising, commercials or formal promotion. People who have bought places in the line have had to figure out on their own how to contribute. We actually passed the $1-million mark with people having to call our 800 phone number to find out where to send their money.
Q: Didn't you expect a big influx of money after the Super Bowl promotion?
A: The result of that three-minute spot on the Super Bowl was credibility. In politics, we deal with what we call threshold issues. Once we reach and pass those issues, it's a horse race. The Super Bowl spot was our threshold. Since then, we've been credible. In two days, that spot brought in $250,000 in pledges--and our phone number wasn't even included. But right now, the numbers game is stupid. The money and support are out there. We haven't really started yet.
Q: How much of the $100 million that Hands Across America expects to raise will actually be spent on hungry people?
A: All of it except the money we have to use to buy the radios and T-shirts and other marketing materials--which will figure out between $2 and $3 per person. All of our other expenses are being picked up by corporate supporters, most of it by the Coca-Cola Co., which is strongly behind this effort."