The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy announced yesterday that it is awarding $500,000 in grants to 11 public and private programs seeking "solutions to the serious literacy problems facing the United States."

At a White House breakfast for foundation volunteers, Barbara Bush, who is honorary chairman of the 18-month-old organization, said she was "simply thrilled" that the grants, the first the foundation has awarded, will help break what it has targeted as an "intergenerational cycle of illiteracy."

"I suspect that today may well be the best I've ever had in the White House," she said in welcoming her 40 guests, whom she described -- borrowing from Yogi Berra -- as " 'all the people who made this moment necessary.' "

In March, the foundation sent out 2,000 letters advising groups of the grants. Of the more than 500 that responded, 489 were eligible to apply, according to Joan Abrahamson, foundation president. The 11 recipients were selected this week at a marathon two-day meeting of the foundation's eight-member board.

Abrahamson said the programs, which will receive amounts ranging from $25,000 to $50,000, represent "an extraordinary range of people from all backgrounds and of all ages who have in common a willingness to learn to read." Board member Margot Woodwell said she and the other grant-makers aimed for "a balance" of host organizations, geography and target populations. "It wasn't that these were the best. That wasn't the issue. The issue was how we could find 10 -- or in this case, 11 -- projects that really enabled us to be all-encompassing so that we would have models that could be applied elsewhere. That was our goal."

The first crop of grantees includes programs for homeless, migrant, immigrant, American Indian and limited-English-speaking families in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Washington, New York, Tennessee and Hawaii.

More than $5 million has been raised for the foundation by its two-man fund-raising team, Harold A. Poling, chairman and chief executive officer of the Ford Motor Co., and Martin S. Davis, chairman of Paramount Communications Inc., according to Benita Somerfield, executive director of the foundation.

Mrs. Bush, who the White House says keeps her distance from the foundation's fund-raising efforts, expressed pleasure that "the excellent group of proposals represents all regions of the country, all types of people. It shows how strong the concern for family literacy is in this country."