Ken Kragen isn’t asking for a hand, exactly. More like 11 million of them. That’s how many mitts it’ll take, by his estimate, to form a human hand-to-hand chain stretching across 16 states, four time zones and 4,152 miles. Billed as “Hands Across America,” the fund raiser Kragen is organizing for this country’s hungry and homeless could pull in, he predicts, more than $50 million, since participants in the May 25th cross-country clutchathon will be paying $10 or more for a spot in line.
Kragen, 48, is no novice money raiser. He organized the We Are the World recording for African famine victims and is president of USA for Africa. To boost interest in Hands Across America, he commissioned a suitable theme song (not from Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie this time but from three jingle writers who created “The pride is back” Plymouth ads) as well as a video featuring Barbra Streisand, Mikhail Baryshnikov and 36 other celebrities. Corporate angels have promised nearly $12 million to bankroll the project, along with free phones, computers, discounts on 700 billboards and free advertising on Safeway shopping bags and McDonald’s tray liners. Lest the hand holders need help filling the New York-to-Long Beach line, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is lending 10 elephants to the cause.
Helping Kragen sort out these logistics are Marty Rogol, 41, executive director of USA for Africa, and Fred Droz, 41, a political advance man who worked for vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. They report that $1.5 million worth of positions has already been bought and insist that the volunteer rate will speed up as the Memorial Day weekend draws near. As a lure, hundreds of actors, athletes and other performers will have posts along the chain, including Ed Begley Jr. (in Arizona), Kathleen Turner (Missouri) and co-chairman Kenny Rogers (on the barren New Mexico-Texas border). Prince, one of the few rock stars who decided to forgo We Are the World 15 months ago, has contributed $13,200 for one mile of the line. Kragen, however, claims bodies are as important as bucks. “The miracle,” he says, “is in the line connecting.”