Americans are probably the most generous people in the world, especially where children are concerned.
The same spirit of good will that made our soldiers heroes to war-ravaged children in foreign conflicts has been activated again by the plight of children stricken by the famine in Ethiopia.
Any cynic who thinks Americans today are motivated only by selfish interests -- the "me" generation -- will be astonished by the response to my column on a little-known but respected relief organization, the International Rescue Committee.
My associate Dale Van Atta checked into the IRC's operations and found that it spent 5 cents of every dollar in contributions for administrative expenses -- a remarkably low figure for any charity.
I reported the IRC's heroic efforts to make a dent in the human tragedy engulfing hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians fleeing their drought-shriveled homeland for food and medical care in neighboring Sudan. I suggested that contributions to the IRC would be an effective way to help the helpless and feed the starving.
The outpouring from readers was overwhelming: More than $150,000 was donated in a matter of days. The checks, many of them clipped to copies of the column, ranged from $1 to $10,000.
"In the days immediately following the publication of the column," wrote Al Kastner, an official of the relief group, "IRC was flooded with calls from people all over the country asking how they might help -- businessmen, workers, professionals, students, homemakers, schools and church and community groups. Thousands of letters carried the same messages of caring and compassion -- most of them with contributions."
Kastner, who has been with the IRC for 18 years, added, "We've never received this kind of dollar response before from an article." Take a bow, readers.
The most gratifying response came from youngsters across the country who thought of ways to raise money for the starving Ethiopians.
Claire Swann, 6, of Delmar, N.Y., for example, insisted that, on invitations to her birthday party, her parents ask guests to "bring no gifts, but instead bring gift-equivalent donations for the relief of children and families of Ethiopia and the Sudan."
Claire's birthday netted $154 for the IRC.
In a cover letter to the relief agency, Claire's parents, Dr. John Swann and Dr. Martha Pierson, wrote that "overwhelmingly, the response from parents at our daughter's school was in favor of this modified sort of birthday party -- no more plastic and tinsel tokens to be given and received at birthday parties!"
Your contributions were put to good and immediate use. After the first few days' rush of letters, Kastner wrote: "The contributions received so far from your readers will pay for 20 IRC doctors, nurses, feeding specialists and relief workers in the Sudan for a six-month period. One cannot even guess how many lives they will save, how many children on the edge of death will be made well."
If you want to add your contribution, the IRC's address is 386 Park Ave. South, New York, N.Y., 10016.