Hands Across USA Won't Link Nation

LOS ANGELES--While conceding there will be gaps in their planned coast-to-coast linkup, promoters of Hands Across America are already preparing to implement a maverick plan to distribute up to $50 million raised by the event.

Hands Across America's bid to put 5.4 million people in a line 4152 miles across the United States on May 25 was show-business promoter Ken Kragen's method of gathering donations, publicity and corporate support.

But while the line may fall short, organizers believe they will succeed in raising money and consciousness about hunger and homelessness.

"If the line connected, it was the whipped cream, the sprinkles, the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae," said Marty Rogol, executive director of USA for Africa, the parent foundation of Hands Across America. "But the key is that the event is not the ending, but the beginning."

Last week, lineup officials in Arizona said 94 miles there would go unlinked because they were too rugged or too far from emergency medical services. Organizers had admitted privately that New Mexico and Texas likely will have large gaps.

With a blizzard of donations the week before the event, the organization was unable to estimate how much it has raised, but corporate contributions alone may be as high as $18 million to cover operational costs estimated by Kragen at $12 million.

Citibank-Citicorp donated at least $3 million. Primary sponsor Coca-Cola Co. won't disclose its donation, but Rogol concedes it's at least as much as Citicorp's.

Rogol said 60 percent of the money will eventually be distributed for emergency needs, 40 percent to long-term projects.