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Fund-Raising Idea Proves It Can Fly

December 02, 1987|GARY LIBMAN | Times Staff Writer

A campaign begun on the East Coast to raise money for the world's impoverished children is moving West.

As early as Dec. 15, Northwest Airlines travelers returning to Los Angeles from Japan with foreign coins in their pockets will be invited to donate that change to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The Northwest collection program, announced in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, brings to the West Coast a program started by UNICEF with Virgin Atlantic Airways. The airline, which has two flights a day between London and Newark, has raised $10,000 a month since July by asking passengers to drop foreign coins in envelopes bound into Virgin Atlantic's in-flight magazine. Impressed by the proceeds from Virgin Atlantic, UNICEF officials began to solicit major American airlines for the program. After Northwest announced its participation Tuesday, a Continental Airlines spokesman said his company would also join the program. Continental, however, has not decided whether it will collect money in Los Angeles or Honolulu, which is its Western hub.

The money will be collected in envelopes placed on each passenger's tray at mealtime, according to Lloyd Warren, vice president for in-flight services for Northwest. Preceding distribution of the envelopes, Warren said the airline will screen a short video explaining the program.

David Wood, special projects officer for the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, said he thought the program could raise as much as $40 million annually for UNICEF if all U.S. carriers participated.

Earmarked for Immunization Program

The money will be earmarked specifically for UNICEF's universal child immunization program, which seeks to immunize every child in the world under the age of 5. Wood said that each year an estimated 3.5 million children under age 5 in underdeveloped countries die of six immunizable diseases: polio, diphtheria, measles, tetanus, tuberculosis and whooping cough.

The collection program was originally suggested by Howard Simons, curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. Simons noticed from his own extensive travel and that of his cohorts that travelers to other countries typically had scores of unusable foreign coins lying around in drawers or jars at home.

He wrote a Wall Street Journal column in 1985 proposing that the unusable change in passengers pockets be collected at airports and used to help children. UNICEF jumped at the idea and began working with Virgin Atlantic to test the plan.

"It's a wonderful plan," said Warren. "It's for a wonderful cause. And it's a wonderful way to start the new year."

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