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Hands Reach Out as Spirit Grips County

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Times Staff Writer

It was half-time during the Super Bowl when the message flashed across Ken Easton’s television screen.

The 31-year-old Lucky Stores’ warehouseman from Anaheim had envied the entertainers who had raised $45 million in famine relief in USA for Africa. And, as he watched that first ad for “Hands Across America” last Jan. 26, he found himself saying, “Hey, this is something I can do.”

Easton’s enthusiasm was so infectious that corporate officials for the chain allowed employees to distribute more than 500,000 flyers for the anti-hunger drive to customers in 175 stores. The company also provided food for rallies at its warehouses in Irvine and in Buena Park, where Easton works.

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“Here’s a case of one guy really making a difference, in his company and to our effort,” said Diane Wilson, event organizer for Orange County. “It shows what one person can do.”

As he made final plans Friday for more than 350 Lucky employees who will link hands at noon Sunday on what may be the loneliest stretch of Orange County’s 20.2-mile route--the Santa Ana River bike path in Anaheim Hills--Easton said, “I thought it was probably one of the best projects I’d ever seen. USA for Africa was great, but this is for our own people.”

At schools throughout Orange County on Friday, students also prepared for the event. At Gerber Children’s Center in Huntington Beach, children held hands across the playground after creating a poster with all their handprints and collecting more than $100 for the cause. At Horace Mann Elementary School in Anaheim, children dressed in red, white and blue and gathered on the playground to practice singing songs that will be sung nationwide at noon on Sunday.

A domestic project conceived in the pattern of USA for Africa, Hands Across America hopes to raise $50 million or more by getting about 5 million people to contribute at least $10 apiece to help form a human chain Sunday from New York City’s Battery Park on the Atlantic Coast to the Queen Mary in Long Beach.

What was hoped would be an unbroken connection of people across 16 states and the District of Columbia will be linked in many hard-to-reach spots with lengths of ribbon. At the stroke of noon, all who do participate will sing in unison “We Are the World,” followed by the “Hands Across America” theme song and “America the Beautiful.”

In California, the line will cross the desert from Blythe at the Arizona border through Palm Springs, Riverside, Corona and eventually wind through East Los Angeles’ Whittier Boulevard, Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley and along the coast from West Los Angeles to Long Beach Harbor.

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In Orange County, the line picks up in the Santa Ana River Canyon near Prado Dam, following a bike path along the river parallel to the Riverside Freeway, traversing the cities of Yorba Linda, Orange, Garden Grove, Anaheim, Fullerton and La Habra.

Event organizers said participation in Orange County has been so strong that gaps along the 26,664-person line already may be filled.

“The way it has been going, I wouldn’t be surprised if Orange County has been filled,” spokeswoman Vickie Pipkin said in Los Angeles late Friday. “I think we have some real strong Americans in Orange County. That’s the beauty of this project. It has kind of piggybacked on the Olympics and the American spirit created. That’s a good sign for all of us.”

Tickets Available

For those moved by the spirit to join in at the last minute, Pipkin had one piece of advice: “Go to the line nearest you; that’s the best instruction.”

Tickets will be available from Ticketmaster outlets locally through tonight. Pipkin said people can also call the state headquarters offices at (213) 469-9771, or simply dial 1-800-USA-9000. But people calling the toll-free line are now being referred to her office for specific details, she said.

Many employee groups like Easton’s are expected to take part on Sunday.

His group will be joined on the bike path by about 40 to 50 people from the Irvine offices of Shearson Lehman Mortgage Corp., a subsidiary of American Express Co.

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“We thought it was time we did something to help people here in the United States,” said Peggy Campbell, 26, a Shearson executive secretary, whose exuberance sparked calls to corporate headquarters and a subsequent offer to pay $25 for each employee who signed up this week.

Orange County’s largest landowner, the Irvine Co., got into the spirit, too.

Matching Contributions

The company has donated $1,000 in matching funds to double the personal $10 contributions of 100 employees, who will form a section of the line on Katella Avenue in Orange, said Dawn Bouzeos, public relations supervisor for the Irvine Co. in Newport Beach.

About 400 UC Irvine students and faculty members are expected to join the line, as will members of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, the Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross and a group of retired telephone company employees who call themselves the Silverado Council of the Telephone Pioneers of America, Pipkin said.

The hardest-to-fill spots have been along Katella Avenue near the Orange Freeway between Orange and Anaheim and along Harbor Boulevard in north Fullerton.

Pipkin said some of the La Habra High School students who won first prize for raising the most contributions--more than $2,500--will occupy spots on Harbor Boulevard along with a group of elderly and disabled, Pipkin said.

The artistic community will be represented along the way by the California Junior Light Opera Company from Laguna Niguel. Pipkin said company members will be recognizable by what spokeswoman Carole Allen called their “snazzy hot pink and purple costumes.”

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Memorial to Son

One Santa Ana musician will be sharing in Sunday’s event, not in Orange County but along Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles as a tribute to his 3-year-old son who drowned last Tuesday in the family swimming pool.

Richard Vasquez, organizer of an East Los Angeles rally for the event jointly sponsored by KMEX-TV and Hands Across America, said he originally asked Jesse Lopez if he and his eight-member band, Latin Sound, would be interested in performing Sunday.

“He said, ‘I’m sorry, I just don’t feel up to it right now,” Vasquez recalled Friday. “Two hours later, he called me back. He said he and his wife had talked about it and they decided the best way to memorialize their son was to go to Hands Across America.

“He said, ‘The only thing we ask is that me and my wife and our surviving 7-month-old daughter have a place in line.’ ”

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