During the next 18 months, the Washington-based Food Research and Action Center plans to conduct national campaigns to add 3 million children to the federal school breakfast program, monitor the distribution of food stamps and create 10 new state anti-hunger coalitions.

The center's ambitious plans have been financed by a $175,000 grant from the final distribution of funds raised by Hands Across America, a May 1986 effort that created a human chain of contributors to raise funds and public awareness about hunger and homelessness. Of the 61 programs nationwide that received a total of $3.8 million in grant awards announced Tuesday, 12 District-based organizations received $1.2 million of the funds.

Many of the District recipients are national groups whose grant proposals included national activities.

Hands Across America, which began issuing grants last year, made its first awards to programs that provide direct services, including more than $70,000 in grants to area groups. The final awards will finance projects aimed at long-term efforts to solve hunger, homelessness and poverty.

Ed Cooney, deputy director for Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit group founded in 1970, said the grant will allow his organization to establish a network of monitors. The network would discourage states from referring people in need of immediate food assistance to emergency food banks -- which have limited resources -- rather than providing them with food stamps. In an effort to prevent hunger from harming a child's ability to learn, Cooney said, a national campaign will be conducted to double the number of chil- dren participating in the federal breakfast program, now 3 million.

"This is a very important grant to us," Cooney said. "Without it, we would not be able to deliver the quality of services that we have in the past."

The largest local grant, $250,000 for a two-year period, was awarded to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an independent nonprofit research organization that studies the impact of federal and state programs on low-income people.

Keith McKeown, a spokesman for the budget and policy group, said the grant will finance a series of research papers on the nation's hunger and welfare policies and a program to inform low-income people how to qualify for earned income tax credits. McKeown said his group also will work to increase the number of participants in a national food program serving infants and pregnant women by encouraging states to reduce costs through competitive bidding.

Many of the local groups also said that their grants will have a much larger impact on hunger and homelessness because their efforts will be coordinated with other grant recipients.

"We feel that this final round of Hands Across America grants will be effective in finding new ways, leveraging other resources, continuing to heighten awareness and in encouraging programs enabling people to help themselves," said Marty Rogol, executive director for the USA for Africa/Hands Across America organization.

According to an audit released in March, Hands Across America collected $24 million from participants. After administrative costs, it had slightly more than $15 million to distribute to projects for the hungry and homeless.

Other District groups that received grants were: Bread for the World Educational Fund, $50,000; Children's Defense Fund, $43,333; Citizens Fund and Americans for Health, $230,000; Housing Assistance Council, $70,000; Institute for Policy Studies, $35,000; Low Income Housing Information Service, $100,000; National American Indian Housing Council, $20,000; National Center for Policy Alternatives, $20,000; Project Vote, $85,000; and Center for Community Change, $100,000.