The American Legion says that all it takes is a phone call and its members will mow lawns, buy groceries, baby-sit and do other chores for families across the country who have soldiers in the Persian Gulf.

American Legion National Commander Robert S. Turner said Tuesday that the Legion's 16,000 posts, 10,000 auxiliary units and more than 4 million members will help families in need during military buildup.The Legion set up a nationwide toll-free number - 1-800-786-0901 - that will be available around the clock. Callers need a touch-tone phone to tap in their area code, telephone number and ZIP code.

"We hope that within 48 hours a member of the Legion or auxiliary will call them to begin to work on solving their problem," Turner said.

Legion members can help provide everything from household help to financial relief, he said. "The only limit on the kind of help we can offer depends on the imagination and capabilities of the local Legion officials," Turner said.

Turner said the service is for all military families but could be of particular value to members of the National Guard and Reserve.

"Many reservists and Guard members do not live near a military base, with its built-in family support systems," he said.

The idea originated with a letter Army Sgt. Michael Harger of the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg near Fayetteville, N.C., wrote to his wife. Harger told her that if she needed anything, she should contact the American Legion.

By coincidence, Harger's mother had tried to send him a package containing a tape recorder, blank tapes and recordings from his wife and two children. However, the package was opened in the mail and the recorder was stolen.

Harger's mother, who lives in Millersville, Md., called the local chapter of the veterans' group.

Turner and other members of the Indianapolis-based group will travel to Saudi Arabia next week to tell American troops about the program.

"We have asked the State Department to allow us to see Sgt. Harger, and we're going to take him a tape recorder," he said.