Hands Across America Gears Up Media Blitz

April 08, 1986|DAVID CROOK | Times Staff Writer

Queue up, America.

If, before May 25, you drink soda pop, eat hamburgers, shop at supermarkets, use credit cards, wear shoes, stroll shopping malls, go to school, attend church services or drop a few bucks on a diamond bracelet, then the odds are that someone's going to tell you to take a spot on the line.

It's the 4,100-mile Hands Across America line of 6-million to 10-million people that rock-manager-turned-hunger-czar Ken Kragen and a smattering of free-marketeers hope to wind from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, across the amber waves of grain and over the purple mountain majesties.

With roughly 1,300 people per mile donating $10 to $35 each, Kragen's goal is to raise $100 million to fight hunger and homelessness.

"We're really tapping the whole of corporate America," Kragen said in an interview the other day. "We've been contacted by 750 corporations to date, and several hundred--more than 500--have contributed so far."

Religion's in on the act too. Mainline Protestant churches are encouraging their congregations to sign up for places in the human chain.

"It's overwhelming what we have unleashed here," Kragen said. "This is the largest networking effort in history."

One survey Kragen cites says 41% of the public already knows about Hands Across America.

But as time for the lineup draws near, promoters and corporate sponsors will be launching a media blitzkrieg that promises to leave only scuba divers stalking the humuhumunukunukuapuaa amid the coral reefs of the Pacific unaware of the effort:

--Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey's anted 10 elephants.

--3M Co. is sponsoring 1,000 billboards along the cross-country route.

--The Safeway supermarket chain has pledged to emblazon the message on 62 million shopping bags.

--McDonald's has offered 300 million paper tray liners, enough to get the word to the 15 million people who visit the Golden Arches each week.

--Cartier's has offered to donate, discreetly of course, $10 out of every $100 spent accessorizing the carriage trade.

--J. C. Penney's is taking the message to the shopping malls of the country.

--Wally (Famous) Amos will be accepting pledges for dough in his cookie stores.

--Thom McAn shoes bought the principal footpath between Manhattan and the nation, the George Washington Bridge.

--Citibank/Citicorp will be subsidizing processing costs for donations made on MasterCard or Visa credit cards.

--Coca-Cola promises a plug wherever people pause to refresh.

"It's a good opportunity for image development and also a good way for us to help the Hands Across America team," said Dave Depinto, public affairs director for the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Los Angeles, which has bought the last three miles of the route.

The regional bottler plans to tie its Hands Across America promotion to the 100th anniversary of Coke and to the Statue of Liberty anniversary celebration this summer.

Nationally, Coca-Cola USA is coordinating efforts by its nearly 550 independent local bottling companies around the country, said corporate spokesman Ronald Coleman.

Coke's Atlanta employees are being encouraged to solicit sign-ups and donations from friends, family members and community organizations and churches. Local Coke bottlers are also being encouraged to make pitches to local high schools and junior high schools, Coleman said.

"Our employees are very enthusiastic," Coleman said. "They're encouraged to participate in any way possible."

On Good Friday, Hands Across America got a different kind of endorsement. New York's Cardinal John J. O'Connor showed up on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral wearing a Hands Across America T-shirt over his liturgical vestments.

On Easter Sunday some local congregations were hearing pastoral requests for parishioners to take positions in line.

The event is being "heavily promoted" in the churches, said the Rev. Eugene Boutilier, executive director of the Southern California Ecumenical Council, which represents 14 main-line Protestant and Anglican denominations in the area.

The council, Boutilier said, "has strongly endorsed (the project) and is running a promotion campaign to get denominations to tell their congregations to endorse Hands Across America.

"The churches can encourage people, but that's it," Boutilier said.

Jews and Roman Catholics support the goals of the project, but officials with service organizations representing both faiths said neither was formally involved with Hands Across America.

Among nonprofit organizations that have endorsed the project are the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Little Leaguers, the American Medical Assn., YMCA and YWCA members, Jaycees and, said organizer Kragen, maybe, the Republicans and the Democrats.

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