The group that recorded "We Are the World" to fight famine in Africa today announced its next project: Hands Across America, a 3,890-mile chain of people holding hands from the Atlantic to the Pacific, singing "America the Beautiful" in unison to fight hunger in America.
The gargantuan fund-raising effort is scheduled for May 25, 1986.
Billing it as the biggest participatory event in American history, project organizers said they hope to raise up to $100 million for America's hungry and homeless.
The chain will stretch on a route across 16 states and the District of Columbia. Participants will contribute a minimum of $10 to join the line, Ken Kragen, president of USA for Africa, said. Donations of $25 and $35 will bring participants premiums such as visors, radios and T-shirts. At 3 p.m. EDT, project organizers want radio stations across the country to simultaneously play "America the Beautiful" and then "We Are the World," with everyone in line singing along.
Actor-comedian Bill Cosby, singer Kenny Rogers and baseball star Pete Rose are cochairs of the project, which has been planned in secrecy over the past five months. Entertainers Jane Fonda, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed McMahon and Tina Turner have already endorsed it, and Kragen said other celebrities will be participating as well. But the major thrust, he said, is the millions of noncelebrities who will take assigned spots to join Hands Across America.
"The unity underlining it will demonstrate clearly that when the American public stands together, we can accomplish anything," Kragen said.
National Project Director Fred Droz said that Hands Across America will need at least 6 million participants to succeed, but project organizers are hoping for 10 million.
A toll-free number (800-USA-9000) already has been set up to take reservations. Participants will be assigned a place in the line as near their homes as possible; 48,100 people will be needed for the route between Baltimore and Washington, and another 321,000 for the subsequent link to Pittsburgh, organizers said.
Over the past year, inspired by Band Aid, "We Are the World" and Live Aid, world hunger has become a major concern, but Hands Across America seeks to bring that issue home.
"The spirit of giving has become an integral part of our national fabric," Kragen said. "Now we come to the next step, an opportunity for people in this country to participate and to be directly involved in a project that will unify and focus our national attention on the problems of hunger and of homelessness."
Marty Rogol, executive director of USA for Africa, said that though hunger in the United States had been nearly eliminated by federal and state food programs in the mid-'60s, at least 15 national studies in the past two years have documented its return as a serious problem in the 1980s.
Dr. J. Larry Brown, chairman of the Physicians Task Force on Hunger in America, said that 20 million citizens suffer from hunger, and that the problem is reaching "epidemic proportions -- a problem that is excessive and is growing rather than diminishing."
Rogol, who has been overseeing the $34 million raised by sales of "We Are the World," said 10 percent of the money raised by Hands Across America will be used for emergency needs, 50 percent for supporting existing programs and 40 percent for developing new programs.
Kragen estimated the project cost at almost $19 million, to be footed by several major corporate sponsors. Coca-Cola already is associate producer of the event.
Kragen rejected suggestions that America might be settling into compassion fatigue after "We Are the World," Live Aid and Farm Aid -- the last of which was judged a partial failure in fund-raising terms.
"You keep events alive by being imaginative, by doing things that capture so much imagination that people want to participate," he said. "Farm Aid was a wonderful experience, but it could not help but be similar to Live Aid. This event is like none other that has ever been done and I see no reason that this event will be affected by compassion fatigue."