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Trick-or-treating for Katrina victims

Jennifer Jacobs The Des Moines Register

Forget candy. This Halloween, a 10-year-old Iowa girl wants children to trick-or-treat for loose change – even though her little brother thinks it’s a terrible idea.

Talia Leman of Waukee, Iowa, is encouraging children across the United States to turn Halloween into a $1 million fund-raiser for hurricane relief.

She earned the backing of Hy-Vee, the Iowa-based grocer, which will print her message on 8.5 million orange grocery bags distributed at its 221 stores in seven states. It will also ask other U.S. grocers to jump on board.

Talia is calling her idea T.L.C. – Trick-or-Treating for the Levee Catastrophe. It’s one of the only national relief efforts led by children.

When Talia rings doorbells this year, dressed as Snow White or a vampire or whatever she decides to be, “I’ll say, ‘I’m raising money for T.L.C. Can you donate a quarter?’ ” she said last week.

Six-year-old Zander Leman is appalled at the thought. He feels strongly that no peanut butter cup or mini chocolate bar should be displaced by an inedible dime or quarter.

“For Zander, it’s all about filling my bag for me,” his mother, Dana Leman, said with a laugh. “I think it’s hard for the little ones to comprehend charity.”

The way Talia thinks about it, kids don’t have to sacrifice the sweets altogether. “If people throw in some candy, too, that’s OK,” she said.

Talia learned about the Katrina catastrophe from the car radio, in social studies class, then from images on television.

“I saw water and a big disaster and people on cots everywhere,” she said. “We can go home and sleep in a comfy bed, and they’re on these cots and all their stuff is on these little cots.”

At first Talia and her mom brainstormed a fund-raiser for just Talia and her friends. Then it expanded to their neighborhood.

Talia penciled a strategy in careful letters. She envisioned a TV news anchor spreading the word. Raising $1 million didn’t seem too far to reach. If 100,000 children scrounged up $10 each, she calculated, they could do it.

Talia has a reputation for being a sensitive and ambitious kid, said her principal at the Academy, a nonparochial private school in Des Moines.

She has piano and fencing on Mondays, tap and ballet on Tuesdays, horseback riding lessons on Wednesdays, soccer on Thursdays, and classical voice lessons on Fridays.

It bugs her a little that promoting her fund-raiser might mean missing a lesson here or there – she missed recess to do a newspaper interview – but she says she understands that kids in Mississippi and Louisiana are missing out on more.

The hardest part about promoting her cause is that it feels uncomfortably like self-promotion. “We told her that just because you care about something doesn’t mean it’s about you,” said Dana Leman, a stay-at-home mom married to a gastroenterologist. “You’re leading a cause that’s bigger than you. The hurricane was so much bigger than Talia, so the relief effort has to involve so many people and so much money so that in the end, she’s a very small part of a very big thing.”

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