Thanksgiving Angels

An estimated 1550 families get meals at the South Congregational Church in Pittsfield, Mass., for Thanksgiving dinners. (Ben Garver / The Berkshire Eagle via AP)

On Thanksgiving Day in 1945, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower testified before Congress on why fighting hunger was critical. Europe was suffering with post-war food shortages. Eisenhower told Congress that funding for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration had to be increased.

Eisenhower said, “There are few places in Europe today where people are not cold, hungry and apprehensive of the future. ... The ravished

nations of the world are looking to UNRRA for their relief.” Congress approved the budget increase. The American public got involved too with fundraisers for charities fighting hunger in Europe including Save the Children, CARE and Catholic Relief Services.

This generosity was essential for saving and rebuilding Europe and Asia after the war. There would have been mass starvation without American food aid.

Food saves lives and is vital to building peace. We should remember this on Thanksgiving. Like Eisenhower we should also make a powerful statement for feeding the hungry.

Today there are 821 million people suffering in hunger around the globe. They are war victims in Yemen, Syria, the Sahel of Africa, South Sudan and other impoverished nations. In Afghanistan, a country where peace remains elusive, hunger is escalating because of conflict and drought. There will be no peace in Afghanistan without food.

In Yemen, a civil war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels has placed that country on the brink of famine. Over two-thirds of Yemen’s population lives in hunger. Some Yemeni children are starving to death.

The Rhode Island nonprofit Edesia has sent lifesaving food for 200,000 children in Yemen. It is an enriched peanut paste called Plumpy’sup, which the U.N. World Food Program distributes. Navyn Salem, the owner of Edesia, wants as many people to get involved in ending the hunger crisis in Yemen.

Salem pleads, “My team at Edesia works 24 hours a day to supply our humanitarian partners with the food that is necessary to give life. Now, tell me, who else is willing to bear this responsibility? Don’t close your eyes, don’t look away. Take action, and help us make this suffering end.”

Yemen needs an immediate ceasefire so humanitarian agencies can get food to war victims. The blockades of ports and roads must end. Much more funding is needed for relief agencies so they can provide this aid. Helping Yemen is a massive humanitarian operation.

Congress must increase the budget for our international food aid programs. Our Food for Peace program, which was started by Eisenhower, needs more support.

Food for Peace is the major donor to the World Food Program and its relief efforts in war-torn Yemen, Syria and over 70 other countries. The needs are so great that more funding is needed.

Food for Peace recently donated to the WFP in Central African Republic so it can provide school meals to children. This fights hunger and keeps children in class learning. Some programs are supported by nearby farmers, a positive trend. But so much more aid is needed in the Central African Republic, one of the lesser-known hunger emergencies.

The Central African Republic is a country in dire need of food because of conflict. As Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, warns, “The situation in the Central African Republic is a grotesque example of the impossibility of building peace and stability on empty stomachs.”

The American public, like Eisenhower, should “testify” in support of increasing Food for Peace funding everywhere it’s needed. The McGovern-Dole global school lunch program also needs expanding. Let your representatives know that food matters.

On Thanksgiving Day, as we celebrate an abundance of food, we cannot forget those who are without. We can feed them and help build their agriculture with our international aid programs.

We have to meet the challenge of hunger today so countries can have food security and peace tomorrow. We should strive to end hunger everywhere. This noble goal can inspire us on Thanksgiving.

William Lambers is an author who partnered with the U.N. World Food Program on the book “Ending World Hunger.” His writings have been published by The New York Times and other media outlets.