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Organizers mark anniversary of Hands Across America

By
AURELIO ROJAS

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Singing and holding hands Monday, organizers of Hands Across America marked the first anniversary of their transcontinental human chain with a renewed public appeal to fight hunger and homelessness.

'As extraordinary as the Hands Across America public demonstration was, it was only a beginning,' principal organizer Ken Kragen said during a ceremony aboard the luxury liner Queen Mary.

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An estimated 5.5 million people participated last May 25 in the 15-minute, 16-state sing-along that raised $15 million for the needy - far less than the initial projection of $100 million organizers had hoped to raise. Another $9.5 million in donations was spent on organizing and promoting the event.

'As we celebrate toda,y we rededicate ourselves to solving the problem of homelessness,' Kragen said. 'We should not forget that a third of our families and friends live below the poverty level. In a country as rich as ours, that's absolutely unforgivable.'

The balloon-festooned ceremony included the dedication of a monument to Hands Across America that will be placed Long Beach, which was the end of the 4,127-mile intermittent chain that passed through 510 communities, across 10 rivers and two deserts.

Organizers held up a 5-foot-long symbolic check for $12 million, the total amount they have contributed to more than 1,600 organizations aiding the hungry and homeless in every state and the District of Columbia.

Following the presentation of the check, a church choir led the estimated 300 people attending the ceremony in the singing of 'We Are the World,' 'Hands Across America,' and 'America the Beautiful.'

Another $3 million raised by the event last year will be distributed during the next few months to long-term projects, organizers said.

Despite their success in putting together a cross-country human chain, organizers have been criticized for delays in disbursing funds.

Many organizations involved in the effort were angered because they did not receive proceeds. Kragen said, however, that demands for funds surpassed contributions by a ratio of 6-to-1.

Organizers also were criticized for spending $9.5 million of the $24.5 million in donations on the organization and promotion of the event.

Kragen acknowledged the event was only minimally successful as a fund-raiser but said the primary purpose of raising national awareness of the plight of the hungry and the homeless was achieved.

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