Pennies, Dimes, Dollars: World Vision Takes in Millions to Aid the Starving

Times Staff Writer

Pennies taped to cardboard, worn dollar bills and checks from former refugees, church organizations and civic groups pour into the mailroom every day at World Vision International, a Christian relief agency in Monrovia.

Most donations are earmarked for famine victims in Ethiopia. On just one day, Dec. 26, 1984, World Vision received 60,495 pieces of mail and 99% were donations, said Brian Bird, World Vision spokesman.

Since then, the mail flow has leveled to about 40,000 pieces a day.


To handle the heavy flow, World Vision has turned the mailroom into a 24-hour-a-day operation.

Although a third shift was added to speed up the opening and sorting of mail, there is a backlog of 60,000 uncatalogued contributions in the vault, Bird said.

$38-Million Program

During the last quarter of 1984, World Vision officials say the agency spent $7.5 million feeding Ethiopians. This year, the agency has allotted $38 million for its food program, emergency relief projects and community development in Ethiopia, officials said. World Vision said it spent $187 million for all operations worldwide in 1984 and has budgeted $200 million this year.

World Vision operates feeding centers in six Ethiopian cities, including Lalibela and Gondar.

About 50% of the donations World Vision receives come as a direct result of its television programs. The agency has three one-hour programs in circulation and officials say the films have brought in about $20 million apiece. The films are updated twice a year.

The agency also sends out direct-mail tracts and coordinates fund-raising programs for church groups and corporations.

Despite World Vision’s efforts, 2,000 to 3,000 people are starving to death in Ethiopia every day, said Bill Kliewer, executive vice president of World Vision.

War Threatens Centers

Four World Vision feeding centers had to be moved last year because of changing battle lines between the provisional military government and guerrillas.

Although three of the four centers have been reopened, there were delays caused by rough terrain, said John McMillin, the agency’s director of relief and rehabilitation.

“There is no room for delays,” McMillin said. Time lost because of flat tires or overheated engines can make the difference between life and death, he said.

At one center, workers were prepared to feed 300 people, McMillin said. On the day he visited, more than 2,000 showed up.

“This isn’t unusual,” he said. “When the word gets out that there really is food, then the stronger ones return carrying the ones that can’t make it on their own.”

The feeding centers distribute rations of wheat, teff--a high-protein grain mix--and porridge made with oil, sugar and dry skim milk.

Additional Centers Planned

The agency hopes to purchase more food and create 40 additional feeding centers. There are also plans to add more Ethiopian-based personnel, McMillin said. The agency employs 270 people in Ethiopia--30 Americans and 240 Ethiopians.

“We do what we have to do,” Kliewer said. “We just can’t walk away from there.”

World Vision was started in 1950 by Bob Pierce, a war correspondent in Korea, to raise funds for Korean war orphans. The organization later expanded to provide financial aid and relief programs in 77 other countries.

Earlier this year, World Vision officials were concerned that reports about an alleged misuse of funds by another Christian aid organization, International Christian Aid, would cause a decline in their donations.

However, their fear was unfounded, Bird said.

‘Solid Track Record’

“Something like this cast a shadow over the whole relief community,” he said. “Although we’ve had a lot of calls from donors who want to make sure their money is getting to Ethiopia, we haven’t suffered a decline in contributions because we have a solid track record.”

As a member of Interaction, a Washington, D. C., membership group of private agencies that do relief work in Third World countries, World Vision must submit audited financial reports, project reports and bylaws and must prove that it does the work it says it does in specified regions.

Interaction also sends out monthly task forces to make checks and status reports on the membership agencies, according to an Interaction spokesman.

“World Vision is a legitimate operation and has relief programs operating in Ethiopia,” said an official of the Agency for International Development at the State Department in Washington.