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Downpour Doesn’t Drench Enthusiasm of Latest ‘Hands’ Effort

June 23, 1986

HOUSTON (AP) _ Thunder, lightning and a downpour failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the estimated 25,000 people who joined hands in a 32-mile line around this city bypassed by Hands Across America.

″If we all stand close together, our umbrellas should overlap,″ participant Nancy Backer, 34, said as the rain began Sunday.

″Houston could use a big hug right now,″ said Glen Hagenbach, 31, as he helped line up people near downtown for the ″Hands Around Houston″ fund- raiser. ″I think all cities should do this.″

The event to raise money for the city’s homeless and hungry by selling places in the line was planned after Houston was bypassed in the Hands Across America program on May 25.

The rain poured down five minutes before participants began holding hands and singing, ″We Are Houston, The City’s Heart and Soul.″ Despite gusting winds and the thunder and lightning that accompanied the heavy rain, most of the hand-holders finished the song’s three verses and chorus.

″I am a family man and I know what it means when my kids are hungry,″ said John Thomas, 47, of Texas City, before the festivities began.

Another participant, Walt Sepaniac, 26, of Houston, said the city’s residents raised thousands of dollars a few years ago to help dwellers of the a tent city.

″I’m here to do it again,″ he said.

Police Sgt. Dave Starughan said the line of people was about 32 miles long with many people joining in at the last minute. Fund-raiser director Jim Topping estimated the crowd at 23,000 to 25,000.

The Houston Food Bank will use the money to distribute food to the area’s needy, bank director Dave Williams said. The number of residents using the food bank has grown about 30 percent in a year, he said.

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