Program Seems to Be Working : Milk Cartons Join Campaign to Find Missing Children

Times Staff Writer

A photograph of 8-year-old Karisma Flores, who was abducted from her Topanga home two years ago, is catching the eyes of supermarket customers these days.

Her picture is being printed on milk cartons, along with those of other lost children, by the Potlatch Packaging Corp. of Pomona for Alta-Dena Dairy.

The two firms were the first in Los Angeles County to print the pictures. Since then, Ralphs supermarkets and Carnation Dairy, two of Potlatch's largest Los Angeles-area customers, have joined what has become a nationwide effort to find missing children through advertising.

Seems to Be Working

The program seems to be working. Of 14 Los Angeles-area children whose pictures have been displayed since the program began in January, seven have been found.

The most recent were Carlotta and Catherine Aragon of Bellflower, 8 and 5 years old, respectively. Their father, Eugene Aragon, was arrested on suspicion of child stealing after he was located by law enforcement officials earlier this month with the girls in Las Vegas, N.M.

Deputy David Tellez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Information Bureau said Aragon is accused of battering his former wife and taking the children last November.

Tellez said pressure from the advertising campaign forced Aragon to keep his children indoors and to call his ex-wife to try to negotiate for their custody. With the woman's help, Aragon was located and arrested and the girls were returned to their mother last week.

Abducted by Mother

Victoria Vick, 11, of Palmdale was returned to her family three days before the Aragon sisters. Tellez said she was abducted by her mother in January, 1983, and was found in Springfield, Ill., after an informant recognized her picture and contacted the FBI. The mother was charged with child stealing.

Tellez said most of the children who are abducted are taken by relatives. The deputy said that in 1984, 3,800 children were reported missing in Los Angeles County and 1,500 of them were not returned to their parents within 30 days. Of those, 80% were determined to be runaways and about 20% were abducted by relatives. Only three or four were taken by strangers, the deputy said. The Sheriff's Department solves the vast majority of the cases brought to its attention, he said.

Uncertain About Idea

Potlatch regional sales manager Bill Cary said that his company was uncertain about the idea of advertising missing children on milk cartons when Sheriff Sherman Block and Alta-Dena Dairy proposed it to them in January.

But he said the program's unexpected success has helped consumers identify the company as effectively as other forms of advertising.

A number of companies have joined the campaign recently, both in the Los Angeles area and elsewhere in the nation, Cary said.

Advertising Space Lost

The process involves the loss of advertising space on the cartons for dairy firms and some production problems for Potlatch, which must have special plates made for their printing press when new pictures come in each month. But Cary said companies are offerd no financial incentives to participate.

"We give up some printing and plate costs, but from our point of view this is a good community involvement program," Cary said. "We need something to give our customers a positive attitude."

Cary said that two other Potlatch production plants, one in Indiana and one in Missouri, print eye charts on some cartons to help parents detect children's visual problems. They also run slogans on the backs of some cartons designed to help children avoid being abducted.

Drug Abuse Information

Cary said the Pomona plant is considering printing information about drug abuse on cartons, although that program has not started yet.

The idea of advertising for missing children began about a year ago in Chicago, law enforcement officials said, and quickly spread across the nation. The National Child Safety Council, Child Find Inc., and other national organizations began using their resources to meet the growing demand for pictures of missing children from firms like Potlatch.

Sheriff Block initiated an advertising program in Los Angeles County, and the first pictures Potlatch produced came from the Sheriff's Department.

Cary said Potlatch's program will continue indefinitely, and that sacrifices made by his and other companies are minute compared to the rewards.

"Everybody was a little skeptical at first," he said. "But as they got into it, they realized they were gaining national attention."

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