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Campaign To Feed Russian Youths Seeks Participation of American Schools

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WASHINGTON---Responding to a personal plea from an official of the Russian Ministry of Education, a fledgling volunteer group is asking American schoolchildren to raise money for emergency food relief for their Russian counterparts.

The organizers of the group, Food for Thought, say their goal is to purchase or obtain donations of food, transport it, and see that it is delivered to children in five cities identified by Russian officials as the hardest hit by the current food shortages.

The group hopes the first airlift of food can take place next month.

Its founders--three faculty members in the reading center at George Washington University here--are also planning to initiate an exchange of letters between the American and Russian students involved that would create a "learning link" and continue beyond the period when food aid is needed.

According to Chet Tomczyk, a Princeton, N.J., educational consultant who is donating time to the project, Food for Thought hopes initially to pair 100 American schools with 50 to 100 Russian schools receiving aid. He said the group is aiming to raise $50,000 at first, perhaps with the help of corporate donations.

In a speech hero last week, Russian Minister of Education Edward Dneprov said humanitarian aid for the children of Russia was "of strategic importance" to his country.

Still Being Organized

The group's leaders acknowledge that Food for Thought, which was incorporated late last month, is still in the "organizational stage" and has yet to obtain its non-profit status or to work out the details of transporting food to Russia.

As of last week, the group had enlisted a commitment for fund-raising or letter-writing from just three schools, two in the Washington area and one in New Jersey.

Food for Thought representatives did meet hero last week with Mr. Dneprov, and they have started to spread word of their plans nationally.

The American Association of School Administrators, for example, is supporting the effort and has participated in planning meetings.

"Our role will be to let school superintendents around the country know about the program," said Gary Marx, the A.A.S.A.'S senior associate executive director. He called the effort "a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate our good will."

Lisa Mullins, a program officer for foreign disasters at Interaction, a Washington-based coalition of 132 international humanitarian-aid groups, said she had spoken with leaders of Food for Thought.

It is "not an experienced relief group," she said, "[but] they have very good intentions. I think they're serious about what they're doing, and they seem to be going about it in a professional manner."

Personal Plea

While Food for Thought would like to make three deliveries of food between now and May, a successful delivery of the first shipment will be critical, organizers say.

The first shipment will allow the group to test a distribution network that Russian education officials have worked out using a volunteer network of parents and teachers.

Despite the assurances of the Russian officials, the 1ogistics of distributing the food aid once it has arrived in Russia remain a source of worry, Food for Thought organizers say.

The original request for food for children came from Elena Lenskaya, Russia's deputy education minister for international affairs. Joseph T. Kovack, the program director of Food for Thought, said that she made a plea for help to him and two George Washington colleagues in October at a conference in the Washington area.

Mr. Kovack and the other two professors, Floronce Hesser and Judith Findlay, had met Ms. Leaskaya earlier on an trip to Russia. The three Americans conceived of Food for Thought as a response to her plea.

Until the collapse of Communist rule and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russian children were used to receiving two hot meals a day from their schools, Mr. Kovack said.

But the sharp rise in prices under the current free-market reforms means that only the youngest children receive the food, he said.

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