During the holidays we can’t ignore the starvation taking place overseas in war-torn Yemen. The UN World Food Program (WFP) says 20 million Yemenis are in desperate need of food aid.
We can do something about it like we did after World War II when Americans fed “silent guests” during the holidays.
The “silent guest” plan ran from Thanksgiving through Christmas of 1947-48 to collect donations for hungry Europeans. It was a nationwide program started by activist Iris Gabriel, who got all the governors to endorse her charitable idea.
Way back in 1953, Santa Claus took a little time out of his busy schedule to help a new president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower. We hear a lot about presidential appointments these days. Well, that year it was Santa who was called to action by the president.
The holiday season inspired “Operation Reindeer,” Eisenhower’s plan to send Christmas food packages to hungry people around the world
On Christmas Eve night in 1947, President Harry Truman proudly talked about America’s most noble tradition: feeding the hungry. Truman said, “The great heart of the American people has been moved to compassion by the needs of those in other lands who are cold and hungry.”
Just days before, Truman signed legislation to provide food to European countries suffering in the aftermath of World War II.
Citizens donated as well, giving food to the Friendship Train, which collected goods for Europe. Hungry children in France would be having school lunches again because of America’s generosity.
As we celebrate the holidays, we should remember America’s great calling to help those in need whether at home or abroad.
See my guest column in the December 25 Wichita Eagle (page 7A) or online at Kansas.com
In late 1944 two journalists traveled to war-devastated Finnmark in the northern part of Norway. What they saw was shocking. The Nazi Germans had scorched the earth while retreating from the area, destroying homes and buildings and leaving tens of thousands of Finnmark’s residents out in the cold to suffer.
Amid so much destruction there was a humanitarian nightmare. The Allies, commanded by General Eisenhower, shipped in aid. The two journalists continued their tour of the war-torn province, surveying the destruction. But even in the darkest of times, there was room for a little miracle. In one town they came across a magical sight: a Christmas party for children.
The News of Norway printed, “The kids drank milk and consumed cookies to their hearts’ content, danced around the Christmas tree and played games almost like in peacetime.” The journalists wrote that the arrival of relief supplies had brought hope to Finnmark.
Children need to be spared the ravages of war and other disasters. This holiday season please remember the children and think of ways to help them for the coming new year.
You can support the petition to provide school meals for all the world’s children through the U.S. McGovern-Dole program. Or help out the charity Save the Children whose grand history includes relief work in Finnmark. Or assist the relief effort for Haiti and Pakistan by contacting the World Food Programme.
Today, there are millions of children caught in war or disaster zones seeking their own miracle for the holidays and the new year.
For amid all the harshness and cruelty in this world, one thing remains the same. The most powerful force is goodwill and generosity, particularly for children. This should not be forgotten. And amid all the political debate on what to do about this country or that country, feeding and educating all children across the globe is what can make a difference.
On this holiday we can start a plan to give children this gift.
Back to Finnmark for a moment: A collection of clothing had taken place all across America and the clothes were shipped in to Finnmark as part of the relief effort.
One of the Norwegian journalists, Jorgen Juve, recounted a story of a child in the area of the Tana River in Finnmark. The clothing supplies had reached their targets and the girl, named Liv, was smoothing out her new blue coat. The little girl reached in her coat and pulled out a note that read “R. Minneapolis.” She looked at the reporter and said, “Now, I am dressed for the winter.”
Many winters ago in a tiny village in Austria, the Christmas Carol “Silent Night” was born. In a small church in Oberndorf, the song of peace and heavenly love was first played.
Peace would not last though in the land of music. The World Wars came. The destruction was massive. Even after World War II ended there was still suffering among the people. They were without food.
Austrian children could not even grow because it was hard finding one meal a day. Without enough nutrition the next generation cannot develop or learn. They cannot make music.
The U.S. Army, Catholic Relief Services, UNICEF and others brought food to Austria for war recovery. Meals were distributed at schools. They tried to bring life back to normal. No easy task. Times would be tough with a major drought in 1947, limiting food supplies.
Then “Silent Night” came to the rescue. It was the holidays of 1948 when a woman in New Jersey suggested that every time someone heard “Silent Night” on the radio they donate a meal.
This idea was adopted as part of a holiday program, started the year before, where people bought CARE packages for those in need. These parcels of food were sent to Austria and other nations.
Like the Christmas Carol that spread worldwide, so too did this plan of feeding the hungry. The holidays could truly be about sharing.
This food made a world of difference for the countries who had lost just about everything during the war.
With food, a people and a nation can bounce back. Only when hunger is beaten, can there be peace. That is the message of “Silent Night.”
Today, Obendorf and its peaceful church lit up at night is a symbol of the peace of Christmas, the “Silent Night.” The war and its starvation are long past. Yet, a world away, at another place of worship, there is a different tale.
In the Central African Republic people flock to the church to stay alive and find food. Violence has erupted there among rebel groups. People are constantly on the run for their lives. Their possessions are lost. Farmers can no longer plant. So hunger and poverty now increase.
They depend on security from UN peacekeepers and the World Food Program to bring them life-saving rations. But that is only if there is enough funds from the international community to feed them.
When you think of Christmas, the holidays, and “Silent Night” think of the Central African Republic. Think of the food and peace they need to overcome conflict and build their society.
Think also of the flood of Syrian refugees into Lebanon. They have escaped the civil war in their country only to find a new enemy: winter. They just want a roof over their head and warm meals.
What more noble act could be done this holiday then to feed the hungry war victims? Or to bring food and shelter to those in the storm hit areas of the Philippines and other countries. The World Food Program, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, UNICEF and many others struggling to bring relief to so many areas in need.
In 1947 Americans fed a “silent guest” during the holidays and this led to a CARE package going overseas to feed the hungry. Credits:CARE
New England is known for its seafood, the Boston Red Sox and Celtics. Less known is how one Christmas holiday New England took on the challenge of feeding the world.
The year was 1947, just two years after World War II, and nations in Europe and Asia were suffering food shortages. Americans were ready to help. When the holidays rolled around that year an announcement was made from Plymouth, Massachusetts asking families to feed a “silent guest” at their holiday meals.
By making a donation to the Silent Guest Committee, a CARE package would be sent to a hungry family in Europe. A newspaper headline saying “Feasts Provide for All” was the idea.
And the donations poured in. From Thanksgiving through Christmas people reached out to help those suffering overseas. CARE packages flooded Europe and other areas to feed the hungry. Food was life and hope for people trying to rebuild from the war ruins. Another headline read “New England Gives Cheer to the Needy.”
Hunger was fought at home too. In Boston, the Volunteers of America fed the homeless and the Salvation Army was very active.
As this Christmas arrives Americans can take in a “silent guest” at their holiday meal. Just taking some spare change they can purchase multiple meals. That’s right. If you were to find one dollar of change in a coat pocket, on a chair, or in a piggy bank you could feed a child for a week.
So this holiday think like Beantown and New England did in 1947 and feed a “silent guest.” Help change the world.
A few charities to send “Silent Guest” donations include: