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Published in Print: November 14, 2001, as Relief Donations Languish At Contaminated Facility

Relief Donations Languish At Contaminated Facility

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A group of students from Indiana who hand-delivered a check for $1,500 to the American Red Cross headquarters here while on a field trip to the nation's capital may have had the right idea, their teacher said.

The Red Cross has collected almost $1.5 million in a special relief fund for Afghan children after President Bush called on American schoolchildren last month to send a dollar apiece to the cause in care of the White House. But money sent by many other students have been piling up at the White House's off- site postal facility, in effect quarantined after anthrax spores were found there last month.

"It's too bad," said Benny Newell, an honors government teacher who brought 17 students from Madison Consolidated High School in Madison, Ind., to Washington two weeks ago. "There's a lot of money just sitting there not getting to the children in Afghanistan."

The White House announced Oct. 23 that anthrax spores had been found on a mail slitter at the postal site, which has been closed while the source of the contamination is investigated.

President Bush announced the creation of the fund, dubbed America's Fund for Afghan Children, on Oct. 12. Letters for the fund received before the contamination was detected were forwarded to a contractor hired by the Red Cross to open its mail.

The White House postal facility, located at a nearby military base, will be decontaminated, and the letters still there will be sterilized before they are sent on, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.

Officials believe the discovery of anthrax-causing bacteria at a number of post offices in the Northeast have not hurt the fund. As of last week, the fund had received 242,010 letters containing $1.47 million in donations, according to the Red Cross.

Mail Will Go Through

Officials could not say how many other letters addressed to the fund might be on hold at the White House postal facility.

"We are still not receiving any [new] mail from the White House," said Leslie Van Sant, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross. "But the thing that kids need to know is that it's going to go through whatever sterilization process and get to us at some point."

Children can also make their donations at change-counting Coinstar machines, which are located at many grocery stores, she said.

Mr. Newell, the Indiana teacher, said his students' decision to deliver the check in person had nothing to do with the anthrax-related mail snarl. Instead, he said, they just made the delivery as part of a long-planned trip to Washington to visit Capitol Hill and other landmarks.

"We didn't even think of the problems with the mail," he said. "But we are glad we made that part of the field trip so that the money got through. ... It was a very strange time for us to be in Washington. We kind of stood out because no one else was there."

Vol. 21, Issue 11, Page 24

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