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U.S. children raise $1.5 million for young Afghans

NEW WINDSOR, Maryland (CNN) -- American youngsters have raised more than $1.5 million for children in Afghanistan, scraping the cash together in less than two months after responding to a call to give, President Bush said Saturday.

The Red Cross and other charities prepared five truckloads of items destined for Afghanistan and will begin shipments on Sunday, Bush said. All the goods were bought with the donations of children who answered Bush's call for youngsters to donate, he said.

"We have given the Afghan children something to smile about because America's children are generous and kind and compassionate," Bush told a group of children at the Church of the Brethren Warehouse in New Windsor, Maryland.

In an October 11 news conference, the president asked children to send $1 to the White House to help Afghan children.

The $1.5 million collected represents donations received before the anthrax scare -- about one week's worth of mail, said Barbara Wetsig of the American Red Cross. The recent lifiting of a quarantine on White House mail could open the door for more contributions, she noted.

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Planes donated by Federal Express will carry 1,500 winter tents, 1,685 winter jackets and 10,101 gift parcels containing hats, socks, school supplies, toothbrushes, hair brushes, candy and toys to Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

Each parcel contains a message, translated into several local Afghan languages: "A gift to Afghan children from American children."

"These packages will brighten the lives of Afghan children not only during Ramadan (the Muslim holy month) but throughout the winter," Bush said. "It's a reminder that we are at war with the Taliban regime, not with the good innocent people of Afghanistan."

One-third of Afghan children are orphans, nearly half of them suffer from malnutrition, and one in four does not live past his fifth birthday, according to Bush.

"This first shipment represents the goodwill of the American children," Bush said. "It also represents our hopes and desires that the plight of the Afghan children improves, that life can be better for all children in the world."

Bush read from a letter written by one youngster that he said encapsulated the spirit behind the donations.

"Dear Afghan Children," the letter read. "God bless. People want to give you a better life. All children should have love and respect. I hope this helps you somehow."

The enormity of the need in Afghanistan means the gift's value is largely symbolic, said Nigel Fisher, special UNICEF representative for Afghanistan and neighboring countries. The coming winter, war-ravaged conditions and continued drought have put at least 1 million Afghan children at risk, he said.

"But I think it's really significant," Fisher said. "First of all, as a reminder to American kids and the public at large that kids everywhere, especially in Afghanistan, really need help."


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