US helping hand extends to Poles

American generosity is still supporting the Polish people. That is the consensus among spokesmen for American relief organizations, who say the military crackdown in Poland has not seriously hampered the flow of food , clothing, and funds to that distressed country.

Relief officials contacted by the Monitor are pleased with the American public's response. And they are generally confident that their shipments will continue to reach needy individuals - because, they say, the Polish government recognizes the need and is cooperating with the distribution efforts.

Funds are most needed now, many say.

Relief activities hit full stride earlier this year, in response to growing food shortages, political liberalization in Poland, and concern among Polish Americans. No central group oversees Polish relief activities. But figures compiled from organizations contacted by the Monitor show that private and governmental sources plan to contribute well over $62 million in aid by winter's end.

Since the imposition of martial law Dec. 13, when telephone and telex communication was suspended and the airports closed, it has become more difficult to confirm the arrival of food shipments.

But evidence of a continuing flow comes from a number of organizations:

* CARE. The latest shipment of 22-pound CARE packages apparently reached Poland just before Christmas. The arrival was confirmed by two West Germans who returned from Poland shortly thereafter.

CARE, which left Poland in 1971 when its officials felt the situation was under control, returned to the country last spring and reactivated the famous CARE package, which had been superseded by other programs. Much of the groundwork for return was laid by the former Polish ambassador to Washington, Romuald Spasowski, who defected to the United States Dec. 20.

The organization has recently mounted a $7.2 million fund-raising effort for Polish relief. It has undertaken to send 50 million pounds of bulk food and 50, 000 packages a month to individuals chosen in conjunction with the Polish government and representatives of the Polish trade union, Solidarity.

''We have no reason to believe that the (martial law situation) has any effect on our shipments,'' says CARE official Leon Blum.

* Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Since last summer, CRS has sent 17 million pounds of food worth about $10 million through the port of Gdynia for distribution by Roman Catholic bishops. A telex Dec. 21 to CRS Geneva offices from Bishop Czeslaw Domin of Katowice confirmed that shipments are still getting through, and stressed that Poles need this aid more than ever. So far, CRS has collected $2.6 million in contributions earmarked for aid to Poland.

* American Red Cross. A Red Cross spokesman says a convoy of some 17 trucks from West Germany delivered food to the Polish Red Cross Society after the crackdown. Unlike its American counterpart, the Polish society has strong ties to the government. But an International Red Cross official says the Polish Red Cross has ''developed good cooperation with church organizations at all levels.''

* The Polish National Alliance. A fraternal organization based in Chicago, the alliance sent 200,000 pounds of food in five trucks from London Dec. 14, which apparently reached their destination Dec. 19. Since March, the alliance has raised $1.8 million -- more than $1 million alone by a Chicago area telephone campaign, according to spokesman George Przyluski. It plans to send another food shipment very soon.

* Churches of Christ. This denomination has so far sent about $500,000 in food and clothing, much of it donated by firms like Gerber Products ($197,000 in baby food), Amway (bar soap), and Perrigo (toothpaste). The latest shipment arrived Dec. 23 in Gdynia. The goods are distributed by the 152 churches comprising the Evangelical Christian Council in Poland.

Much of the food sent by these organizations comes from the federal government through the Food for Peace program. The Agency for International Development (USAID), which runs the program, recently made available $30 million in food aid for distribution by private organizations. The program, which began before the crackdown, was strongly lobbied for by the Polish American Congress.

USAID officials say that the food aid, designed as a six-month plan, is intended to reach 2 million Poles, providing them with up to 30 percent of their nutritional requirements. During the first week of January, 4,000 tons of rice, vegetable oil, and flour will be loaded on US-flag ships. The food, say officials, is clearly labeled as coming from ''people of the United States'' -- an effort to prevent a recurrence of a recent situation in Cambodia, where US food parcels were misappropriated and relabeled as gifts from Communist countries.

Local efforts are also springing up. The Boston-based Polish Relief Fund has so far collected $5,000, as well as clothing and dried food. ''People have been more than generous,'' says Fund co-chairman Elizabeth Sobczyk-O'Donnell. Her group plans to rent trucks to pick up food and clothing from Boston area people who call in.

She is still unsure how the material is to be shipped. In November, she says, her group shipped parcels to Solidarity in Gdansk via Polish fishing vessels. Following the crackdown, however, the Fund has been in touch with the Red Cross, CARE, and church groups to find alternatives.

Several relief officials stress that the need is for money rather than gifts ''in kind.'' But Jack Webb of the Churches of Christ emphasizes that ''there's a great need for good used clothing.''

Officials agree that as Poland's difficulties have increased, so has the generosity of contributors. Since the crackdown, says an official of the Boston bank which handles contributions to the Polish Relief Fund, ''the response has just been outstanding.''

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