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`PEOPLE HELPED ME'.

Byline: PEOPLE By Mark Baker The Register-Guard

I It began with nine children in Long Beach, Calif., on Easter Sunday 1971. Or was it 1972?

Who knows, it's been so long, but one thing's for sure: More than nine kids will show up Saturday at Fairfield Baptist Church in Eugene. Last year, about 2,000 came. And that was an off year, Anita DeVaney says.

"I did it because we were low-income, and the neighbors, they didn't have anything, either," De-

Vaney says, explaining why she decided to hold an Easter egg hunt in her yard 34 years ago. "Some kids didn't even get Christmas gifts."

Those nine children had so much fun, some of their parents called DeVaney again the next year: "We're looking forward to the Easter egg hunt again this year," DeVaney remembers them saying. `And I thought, `Whoops.' '

But she not only did it two years in a row, she's done it almost every year since, including after she moved to Eugene in 1986. Now, so many attend she's begun holding it at the Bethel area church for kids 12 or younger, mostly homeless, disabled and low-income youths of all faiths. But anyone can come. Even parents, who can win door prizes.

"Make sure everyone knows they're welcome," she says.

Yes, with a name like Anita Sue Levine DeVaney, she's the star of the show. But she would never want you to say that.

"Don't build me up, because I couldn't do this without people donating," she says.

The 57-year-old daughter of a bit-part Hollywood actress and a professional photographer who divorced when she was a child, DeVaney has not known fame and wealth in her life. In fact, quite the opposite. She has struggled to make ends meet and lives on her disability income. She suffered a heart attack when she was in her mid-30s, and now lives with congestive heart disease, ulcerative colitis and severe asthma.

Despite these ailments, DeVaney has devoted herself to helping others. In addition to the annual Easter egg hunt, she arranges for pet food to be delivered in mass quantities to such places as the Greenhill Humane Society and Stray Cat Alliance. She also routinely picks up leftover food from such events as the Lane County Fair, the Oregon Country Fair, the Eugene Celebration, the Saturday Market and the Filbert Festival, then delivers it to the First Place Family Shelter, the Eugene Mission or wherever it's needed.

When she first came to Eugene, she used to pick up leftover doughnuts at the Winchell's on West 11th Avenue at 2 a.m. every Sunday and deliver them to homeless people in area parks.

"God's Rainbow Harvest - that's what I called myself," DeVaney says, `because when they asked where it came from, I just said, `God.' ' Those who received the doughnuts called her "The Angel of Food."

Asked why she does such things, DeVaney quickly answers: "Because there's a lot of hungry people." Then, she thinks for a moment and says, "People have helped me," describing the various churches and friends who've come to her aid during tough times over the years.

The bounty from one of DeVaney's biggest helpers literally showed up on her driveway this past week, found inside an Oak Harbor Freight Lines truck.

DeVaney's annual Easter egg hunts have progressed to the point where mass quantities are needed. Besides herself and friends who boil eggs and paint them, she relies on area businesses to contribute money, toys and other items.

She executed a major coup in the mid-1990s when she struck up a friendship with the president of Kal Kan, the pet food company. Unhappy with the increasing price of her cats' favorite food, she wrote a letter to CEO Peter Cheney in California. Not only did he write back, he sent her two years' worth of coupons. The two continued to correspond for a couple of years, DeVaney says, until Cheney finally wrote to ask: "Why are you hand-printing letters?"

"Because my word processor broke," DeVaney wrote back.

Cheney, who is now retired, sent her a laptop computer in 1998. With that, she wrote and told him about her annual Easter egg hunt and how she was always looking for help delivering pet food to animal shelters. Cheney sent pet food and toys, and asked if maybe Kal Kan's sister company, Mars Inc., could help. Suddenly, shipments of candy bars and M&Ms were coming every year from New Jersey.

This year, however, Masterfoods USA, which now owns Kal Kan and Mars, informed DeVaney that it was still willing to make the annual contribution, but that she would have to pick it up at separate plants in Victorville and Montebello, Calif.

What to do?

DeVaney appealed for help and King Estate Winery and a private individual chipped in to pay the $833.76 tab for Eugene's Oak Harbor to swing by Masterfoods plants in Victorville and Montebello and haul 6,000 pounds of pet food and a pallet of candy back to town.

After the driver wheeled the pallets onto her driveway, DeVaney shouted a big, warm "Thank you!" as he drove away.

And the hunt goes on.

ANITA DEVANEY

Age: 57

Occupation: Helping others

Saturday: Those 12 and under are invited to her Easter egg hunt at noon at Fairfield Baptist Church, 3991 Elmira Road. Kids can bring a pillowcase or bag for their loot, and some canned food for those in need, if they can; door prizes for adults.

Also: If an individual or a business has a van with automatic transmission that they'd like to get rid of, DeVaney would love to have it to make food deliveries. And she's looking for a warehouse where she can store pet food for the Greenhill Humane Society and other animal welfare organizations. She plans to call it HOPE - Help Others' Pets Everyday. "Isn't that cool?" she says.

Bet you didn't know: DeVaney's mother, Cleo Ronson, was a bit-part actress in such Hollywood comedies as 1957's "Designing Women," starring Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall, and 1964's "What a Way to Go!" starring Shirley MacLaine and Paul Newman. Her stepfather, George Sherman, directed about 175 films, including several starring John Wayne. As a teenager, she ate lunch in the Fox Studios commissary with the likes of James Coburn, Mia Farrow, Ryan O'Neal `and the entire cast of `Peyton Place.' '

Trouble: That's what she got into as a young woman, living under the boardwalk at Laguna Beach, Calif. She was busted for selling marijuana and amphetamines when she was 21 and spent six months in the Orange County Jail. She was also a "little sister" in a motorcycle gang. Jail straightened her out, though, and drugs are far back in her past. Today, she doesn't even drink alcohol, she says: "Not having my faculties scares the bejesus out of me."

CAPTION(S):

Anita DeVaney, with her one-eyed cat, Smokey, is the force behind an annual Easter egg hunt for underprivileged and disabled children.
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Title Annotation:Holidays; And that's why, says Anita DeVaney, she delivers food, helps pets and each year throws an Easter egg hunt for hundreds
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 10, 2006
Words:1165
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