The Christmas spirit can do more than just bring cheer for the holidays; it can also inspire lasting peace and goodwill. During the holidays of 1947, Americans sent packages of food to feed hungry people overseas. These gifts not only fed empty stomachs but also filled desperate souls with hope.
Europe and Asia were still reeling from the damage from World War II and drought. Food shortages were almost everywhere.
President Harry Truman remarked at the 1947 Christmas tree lighting ceremony "For many of our brethren in Europe and Asia this too will be a homeless Christmas. There can be little happiness for those who will keep another Christmas in poverty and exile and in separation from their loved ones. As we prepare to celebrate our Christmas this year in a land of plenty, we would be heartless indeed if we were indifferent to the plight of less fortunate peoples overseas."
Americans that Christmas were full of heart and rushed to aid those who were crying for help. The Friendship Train traveled across America during the fall of 1947 collecting food to send overseas to feed the hungry. The train made its first deliveries in Europe during Christmas. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was one of the distributors of this food in Italy and France. Schoolchildren and infants would get precious nutrition for the holidays.
One letter from a child in France read “I am very happy to have food in my school, bread and milk. … I thank you all people having contributed to this present.” Another child wrote “your bread is white like snow whilst ours is almost black like coal. Your milk is sweetened it (is) very good.”
This outreach of generosity for the holidays was matched by Congress, which passed an interim food aid bill right before Christmas. This provided help for Austria, Italy and France so they could make it through winter before the Marshall Plan of reconstruction would kick in.
Americans did not take the holidays off from the problems of the world, they helped solve some of them.
Americans contributing to the Friendship Train or feeding a “silent guest” and sending packages of food abroad made a huge difference. We should remember this history because hunger is still the greatest threat to peace in our world. There are nearly 821 million people living in hunger across the globe, many in conflict or disaster areas. The wars in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, the Sahel of Africa, Ukraine and other nations have left millions hungry and displaced.
We should increase our funding for international aid programs like Food for Peace and the McGovern-Dole global school lunch program. The Congress could do this when they start in January.
Eric Garduno, a senior policy advisor for CRS, says, “U.S. government-funded aid programs like Food for Peace feed some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, often children, who suffer through the ravages of war and other catastrophes. With so many countries around the world facing erratic weather patterns, conflict, or some combination of both, Congress needs to continue its robust investment in these types of programs for the foreseeable future.”
We should also support charities like CRS, the UN World Food Program, Save the Children and others on the front lines of these hunger emergencies. History shows us that America’s generosity is the greatest power for peace.
We must remember this during this holiday season and carry this over into the New Year. Let’s help those overseas who this holiday season are just looking for something to eat to survive.
William Lambers (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Program and Catholic Relief Services on the book “Ending World Hunger.”