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Southland Gets Into Seasonal Spirit of Giving

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At 3 a.m. Saturday, architect Greg Herman shivered in the parking lot of the Farmers Market, surrounded by more than 900 cans of fruit cocktail, beef stew, jellied cranberry sauce and other food staples. Three hours later, Herman, 29, would complete a minor masterpiece--a 10-foot-tall Christmas CanTree to be donated to the needy by Los Angeles real estate brokers.

At about the time Herman was returning home, Glen Hicks, 39, awoke in his dank cardboard condo on downtown’s Skid Row, eager to attend a free Christmas clothing giveaway at the Union Rescue Mission. After jostling with a mob for more than three hours, Hicks emerged with three pairs of used blue jeans, two pairs of white socks and set of fresh underwear--all courtesy of the Los Angeles Police Reserve Corps and their celebrity guest star, actor James Garner.

All across Los Angeles on Saturday, the holiday spirit came to full flower with the staging of no less than a dozen unrelated special holiday benefits. Each touted its own star attraction: politicians, entertainers and, in every case, Santa Claus.

A mere sampling of the events:

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At 9 a.m., in the City of Industry, volunteers began distributing 22,000 baskets of food to impoverished families as part of a holiday campaign by the Navidad En el Barrio social service organization.

At 9:30 a.m., Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), a candidate for county supervisor, helped a nonprofit group distribute toys to needy children at the Estrada Courts housing project in East Los Angeles.

At 10 a.m downtown, a police band played Christmas carols while an increasingly desperate crowd of more than 2,000 packed the sidewalk outside the Union Rescue Mission, some waiting four hours for admission to the holiday giveaway.

“I live right on the sidewalk, on a piece of cardboard, for real,” said Glen Hicks, as he waited anxiously for a pair of tennis shoes. “I can use these but (the scene here) is madness, man.”

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Garner agreed.

“There’s a tremendous amount of people out there in the streets,” he said. “And this (benefit) is just a little bitty pebble in a great big ocean.”

In Hollywood at 11 a.m., young children from Watts were greeted by Paul the Magician and J.J. the Clown at a party sponsored by an evangelical food assistance organization, World Opportunities International.

At noon, outside Farmers Market, a Salvation Army musical ensemble hailed Herman’s Christmas tree. It was built of fruit and vegetable cans that were stacked 20 layers tall. The tree was anchored by 66 cans of Tree Sweet pink grapefruit juice and crowned by four small cans of Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce.

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At 2 p.m. in Santa Monica, Ali MacGraw hosted a charity raffle of Christmas trees decorated by Magic Johnson, Jaclyn Smith and Michael Landon.

At 3 p.m. at a Downey hospital, Betty White, Ed Asner and other celebrities sang Christmas carols and participated in wheelchair races with patients.

There was another event not on the list of pre-planned, pre-publicized benefits.

At noon in the Fairfax District, a disabled World War II concentration camp survivor named Marvin Kaller staged a holiday benefit of his own. The 77-year-old of modest means reached into the pocket of his rumpled pants, retrieved a dollar bill and presented it to a Salvation Army collection volunteer.

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“I donated to the Chabad telethon, too,” he said happily.


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