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SAN ANGELO, Texas - The letters all begin the same way: "Dear friend."

So far, fundamentalist Mormons have gathered 400 to 500 of them, all written by children, and as many stuffed animals to send to children from a polygamous sect in west Texas now in state custody here.

The letters, along with diapers, notebooks, pencils and other items will be delivered next week to San Angelo and, organizers hope, into the hands of the women and children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

"Right now, we are trying to respond with a humanitarian effort to help out the children and women whose lives have been shattered by this," said Mary Batchelor, director for Principle Voices, a Salt Lake City-based education and advocacy organization for polygamous families. "We're ready and willing to support them in many other ways."

Also in the works is a public rally to show support for the sect and the broader fundamentalist community, said to number about 37,000 people in the Intermountain West.

Similar acts of compassion are under way across the nation as attention continues to focus on the unprecedented decision to remove all 416 children from the sect's ranch near Eldorado, Texas, and take them into state custody.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Family Services department said Friday the children will remain at historic Fort Concho and the Wells Fargo Pavilion in San Angelo until a hearing on their status Thursday. With the children are 139 women from the sect.

The state action launched a response more typical for the aftermath of natural disasters. Kevin Dinnin of Baptist Child and Family Services, which honed its skills helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina, is overseeing the sheltering operation. That effort, Dinnin said, includes medical care, food and accommodations.

Officials are striving to meet the unique needs of the sect's women and children - from altering menus to emphasize fresh fruit and vegetables to providing specific clothing.

"If they want black socks, I want to make sure they have black socks," he said.

Dinnin referred to the FLDS people as "our guests" and said everything is being done to provide them a "clean, cool, safe environment."

And for the children, some fun. Toys and recreational equipment have poured into the facilities, he said.

State education authorities have been asked for clarification on what classes should be provided to the children, most of whom have been home-schooled, said Dinnin, who also is an incident commander for the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

A total of more than 500 people are working at the fort, including doctors, nurses and mental health workers.

The women and children did not have access to newspapers or televisions at their compound, and no efforts are being made to make them available, he said. Some women have been able to call family.

Reporters asked Friday if they would be able to speak with the adult women staying at the two facilities. Marleigh Meisner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services told The Salt Lake Tribune that no one wants to talk.

"They are very aware the media is here," she said. "They have asked us to shield them from the media, the photographs and video."

Dinnin said that all the women and children are doing well under the circumstances.

"Anyone who has to relocate wants to go home," Dinnin said.

Meisner said her department has received hundreds of calls and e-mails from people who want to make donations or open their homes to the FLDS children.

But any who claim to be parents will have to wait until Thursday's hearing to argue for the return of their children. No one is being allowed to visit the children, she said.

Marleigh said officials are continuing to arrange foster homes in case they are needed in the future and hope to keep sibling groups together.

For now, the focus is gaining trust of the children, she said.

"Even though they have not been safe before, they will be safe with us," said Meisner, whose agency is expected to argue next week the children would be at risk if returned home.

In preparation for next week's hearing, a roundup of Texas lawyers is under way.

As many as 350 lawyers may be needed to represent the children, according to Tom Vick, a family practice lawyer helping to recruit attorneys. Already, 250 have volunteered. Who will pay them is unclear.

"The lawyers who have gone out there are going out there with the understanding they may never be paid a dime for it," Vick said.

In the vast state of Texas, hundreds of family law attorneys are in practice, though not all of them may have had experience in foster-care cases, he said.

On Friday, volunteer lawyers in San Angelo spent four hours going through training to act as attorneys ad litem, he said.

"It's heart-warming to see the outpouring of lawyers from all over this state who've said, 'I'll be there, you tell me when and where,' '' said Vick, a member of the Access to Justice Commission, which advocates for low-income Texans.

If 51st District Judge Barbara Walther keeps the children in state custody, the lawyers will be tasked with figuring out what is in each child's best interest.

"It could be at odds with what the parents want," he said. "It could be at odds with what CPS wants."

No arrest, no victim located The raid on the Texas compound began April 3, after a 16-year-old girl called a family violence shelter and claimed her husband had abused her.

* Texas officials said Friday they still have not located the girl.

* Arizona officials said Friday they have not been asked to arrest Dale Evans Barlow, 50, of Colorado City. He is named as the girl's husband in an April 3 arrest warrant but denies knowing her.