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Local Make-A-Wish Foundation bombarded with e-mails over fund-raiser

Friday, May 09, 2003

By Steve Levin, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A nationwide e-mail campaign against the local Make-A-Wish Foundation has been organized by a family values organization that claims the Pittsburgh chapter accepted donations from "pornographic programs" during a recent comic book convention.

In the past 10 days, more than 15,000 e-mails have flooded the office of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Western Pennsylvania, decrying its association with the Pittsburgh Comicon held April 25-27 at the Pittsburgh Expo Mart in Monroeville. The show featured appearances by models, including fully clothed former Playboy Playmates, along with the sale of Playboy magazine, in addition to booths devoted to comics, games and fantasy art.

The e-mail campaign was organized by the nonprofit American Family Association, formed in 1977 by the Rev. Donald E. Wildmon to promote traditional family values in the news media. The association's Web site (www.afa.net) provides links to both the national and local Make-A-Wish foundations in its Action Alert section under the headline: "Make-A-Wish defends chapter's porn convention proceeds."

The national Make-A-Wish Foundation office responded that individual chapters make their own fund-raising decisions.

Judith Stone, president and chief executive officer of Make-A-Wish Foundation of Western Pennsylvania, said her office initially answered the e-mails, pointing out that the chapter doesn't benefit from the comic book convention per se, but from an auction and an all-ages casino night held at the adjoining Radisson Hotel on Friday and Saturday night after the convention closed.

But Stone said the volume and tenor of the e-mails led her staff to stop responding.

"We're never going to have agreement on this," she said. "We went [to the convention] and we were not offended. Nobody has ever been offended."

The 102 Make-A-Wish foundations around the world grant wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. The local foundation, celebrating its 20th year, covers 33 southwestern Pennsylvania counties and 23 counties in southern West Virginia. It has granted more wishes -- in excess of 5,200 -- than any other chapter in the world.

This year, it received about $27,000 from the Pittsburgh Comicon.

In a statement yesterday, Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Northwestern Pennsylvania, said the Make-A-Wish Foundation's continued association with the comic book convention affects its work.

"How can families trust an organization that readily accepts money that has been gleaned from a porn-laden event?" asked Gramley.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 people attended the convention this year, according to its marketing director, Patrick Thomas.

Steve Levin can be reached at slevin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1919.

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