A `Phenomenal' Level of Giving

From offers of Bel Air lemons to corporation cereal, aid is pouring in to South-Central L.A.

FROM the Knox Elementary School in Chandler, Ariz., came 500 pounds of shoes, dolls, and other goods.

Procter & Gamble sent in 19,000 cases of disposable diapers. Three flight attendants from Japan Airlines on layover served at mobile relief canteens, while another woman drove down from Seattle, Wash., to donate time.

Whether in the form of vegetables or voluntarism, Los Angeles has seen one of the largest surges of good Samaritanism in city history in the wake of the recent rioting.

The aid for riot-impacted residents of South-Central is coming in from individuals and corporations across the country, and sometimes around the world.

It is going out, however, as quickly as it is coming in - underscoring the magnitude of the need - and raising concerns about what will happen once the goodwill stops.

* During the first two weeks after the unrest, the Salvation Army distributed food and clothing to 171,500 people - which included more than 890 tons of food and 10,000 toothbrushes.

* The local Red Cross has taken in $75,000 in donations, with 10,000 other checks as yet uncounted.

* The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank gave out 1.4 million pounds of food in one week - everything from Kix cereal to ky beans.

"In every respect, the response has been unprecedented - in terms of food given, in the offers of help, and the frenzy of the need," says Doris Bloch, executive director of the Food Bank.

At the agency's huge cocoa- brown warehouse in South-Central, Ms. Bloch walks past pallets of pinto beans, rice, and flour, past stacks of Stove Top Stuffing, infant formula, and Nestle Quick. "The giving," she says, surveying the room and dodging a fork lift, "has been just phenomenal."

Every calamity brings out the philanthropy of Americans, from the fire in Oakland, Calif., to the lash of a long hard winter in the former Soviet Union.

The rioting here, officials say, has struck a particular chord because of the images flickered on TV screens across the land, and the numbness felt at the sight of inner-city neighborhoods once again turning into infernos.

"So many innocent people were affected by the situation," says Major Terry Griffin, who heads the Salvation Army's relief effort. "Obviously, a lot of people got caught up in the rioting and looting, but the majority didn't - and those are the ones that were affected."

No one knows for sure how many people are still in need of food, clothing, and shelter. But the numbers are large - and could last a long time.

The rioting is estimated to have resulted in the loss of 40,000 jobs in the area, perhaps 10,000 permanently. Many of those who have been queuing up for assistance are either people who were thrown out of work or whose corner grocery vanished in the vortex of rage.

"There are no mom-and-pop stores in our area," says Rita Russo, executive director of The Seedling, a relief agency in South-Central. "They have all been burned down."

The donations of cash, time, and goods were the most frenetic in the first few days after the rioting, as Angelenos, many of them dazed by the magnitude of the anger and violence, looked for some way to help the city start to rebuild in what seemed like a community catharsis.

Giving has tapered off only slightly since then, with places like the Food Bank still needing to borrow cold-storage space to handle all the perishables and charity phone banks ringing like they belonged to Ross Perot.

Corporate America has been among the biggest donors: 160,000 pounds of cereal from General Mills, 25,000 pounds of food from Kraft, $5,000 from TRW Inc., 20,000 liters of bottled water from Evian.

But individuals, churches, and community groups have been magnanimous, too. One local executive called to find out what the Food Bank needed and bought $5,000 worth of baby food, diapers, and canned goods. A woman from platinum-priced Bel Air asked if she could send lemons from her trees.

In all, more than 1,000 food-distribution sites have been set up in Los Angeles County, nearly double the usual number in operation. "It is not a long-term solution," says Lonnie Lardner, owner of an art gallery in Beverly Hills who has organized a relief effort among several local churches. "But at least they know somebody cares."

Inevitably, benevolence recedes as crises fade from headlines. Local agencies, though, are hoping this time charity will breed longevity. As Ms. Russo puts it: "We are not going to rebuild South-Central overnight."

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