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Hands Across America

November 16, 1986

I've had enough! I can no longer sit back and allow reporter Dennis McDougal and The Times to show total disregard for providing balanced information on USA for Africa/Hands Across America and the work we're doing ("Hands' Bills Paid in Full, But Homeless Still Waiting," Nov. 2).

The following facts remain:

We have consistently lived up to the promise we have made publicly regarding the handling and distribution of the funds we have raised.

"Hands Across America" was a tremendously successful event. We estimated $18 million would be necessary to create the kind of organization and effort required to bring 5 to 10 million Americans out to stand in line last May 25. In fact, we came in UNDER that budget.

We accomplished something that has never been done before and which has given considerable momentum to those working on the issues of hunger and homelessness in this country.

From $24 million contributed by the public, we have a net of approximately $16 million to distribute. This ratio is more than proper within any charity guidelines. Moreover, public contributions continue to come in.

Despite the public's generosity, the amount of money we have to distribute is very small. It can only have impact if we use it in a manner which is carefully thought out and designed to have much broader and longer-lasting effect on these issues. That takes time. We are seeking the advice and cooperation of the very people and organizations we are looking to help in mapping out the distribution of these funds. They have formed state-by-state coalitions and we have engaged the services of a number of regional coordinators to help in this task. This program is proceeding smoothly and effectively. Some monies will begin going out in the next few weeks, but major distributions will be made in the first quarter of 1987. This is a process we know will work.

Ours is the same organization that has done an outstanding job handling the "We Are the World" monies and distributing them effectively in Africa and here at home. No credit and only rare mention is given to this fact by McDougal in his articles.

In order to keep expenses down and see that all monies raised from "We Are the World" go to assisting the hungry and homeless (as we promised), we have employed a minimal staff and taken much time and care to be sure that this money will be effectively used for the purposes intended.

The first monies from "We Are the World" arrived in our offices in May, 1985, and we were on our way to Africa with the first supplies one month later. It was critical that we move that quickly because we were faced with thousands of people dying in Africa every single day.

Here at home, however, the situation is quite different. It is not the immediate specter of death that hangs over our poor, but the insidious consequences of consistent malnutrition, inadequate housing and wasted lives. Only a careful, thoughtful expenditure of these monies can make a long-term difference.

KEN KRAGEN, President

USA for Africa/

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