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TIMES HOLIDAY FUND

Drive to Aid Youths Begins

October 26, 2003|Nita Lelyveld | Times Staff Writer

Each year in Southern California, millions of young people live on the edge, their access to even the most basic necessities -- from food to shelter to education -- in peril.

This week, the Los Angeles Times kicks off its annual Holiday Campaign to aid low-income children and youth across five counties. With matching funds, the campaign helps donors stretch their contributions. Through a competitive application and review process, which includes on-site visits, it grants money to well-vetted, fiscally responsible nonprofit organizations that support and enrich the lives of young people and their families.

"It's a great way for generous people to show concern and help those in need during the holiday period, and I sincerely appreciate all the support that we have received from the community to date," said Times Publisher John P. Puerner. "I look forward to a strong campaign this year."

The Times Holiday Campaign is administered by the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $800,000 in donations at 50 cents on the dollar. Together, the foundation and The Times absorb administrative costs -- meaning that 100% of individual donations go straight to the organizations helping children.

Thanks in large part to the enthusiastic support of Times readers, the campaign has greatly expanded its reach, Puerner said. In 2000, its first year, it gave out a little less than $36,000 to five charities. Last year, the campaign distributed $1.06 million to 76 organizations -- from before- and after-school programs to health clinics to arts centers to food pantries.

Among those receiving aid were a youth program for Cambodians in Santa Ana, a food bank in Santa Monica, a gang awareness program for Korean youth in Los Angeles and a South El Monte project to teach young men to take responsibility for preventing pregnancies.

"This is one way for us to show how much we value the community. We know the need is great, and we work really hard to raise as much money as we can to help," said Gisselle Acevedo-Franco, vice president of public affairs for The Times.

The campaign solicits contributions from businesses and foundations, but individual Times readers are at the core of its success, she said, adding that last year the campaign received many donations as small as $5 or $10.

In coming weeks, The Times will run a series of articles highlighting programs that received Holiday Campaign grants in 2003. The stories are designed to give readers a sense of the problems being addressed, the extent and urgency of the need and the ways in which organizations put their grant money to use.

The campaign concentrates its grant money on groups helping to meet basic needs (food, clothing and shelter), early childhood literacy and development, prevention efforts, services for developmentally delayed or disabled children, and visual and performing arts programs.

Organizations applying for grants can do so through Dec. 12. The fund will announce the recipients of this year's donations in June.

At Inner-City Arts, a visual and performing arts school in Los Angeles' skid row area that offers free arts classes to poor children downtown, fund-raising in recent years has been "dreadful," said Executive Director Cynthia S. Harnisch. The state budget crisis has hit hard, with the California Arts Council eliminating staff and suspending all grants. Meanwhile, the school keeps trying to meet a vast need -- seeing 8,000 children a year, about 450 each day.

"It's extremely difficult right now. And all of us in the nonprofit world know that even as the economy improves, we'll probably be lagging behind for a year or even two," she said.

Last summer, the Holiday Campaign gave Inner-City Arts a $15,000 grant. It went toward the school's Early Arts Learning Initiative, focused on second- and third-graders.

"For us, this is about teaching creativity and hope and about helping them have a full and nourished life," Harnisch said. "These are children that often live in very harsh circumstances and have great need."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

How to Give

The annual Holiday Campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation. Donations (checks or money orders) supporting the Holiday Campaign should be sent to: L.A. Times Holiday Campaign, File 56986, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6986. Do not send cash. Credit card donations can be made on the Web site:

www.latimes.com/holidaycampaign.

All donations are tax-deductible. Contributions of $50 or more may be published in The Times unless a donor requests otherwise; acknowledgment cannot be guaranteed. For more information call (800) LATIMES, Ext. 75771.

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