Easter's Spirit and Past Inspire Us to Feed World's Hungry | Opinion

During Easter in 1915, Americans were determined to save Belgium from starvation. Belgium had been invaded by Germany in World War I which led to food shortages. Belgian children were suffering severe malnutrition.

Americans packed food on to the Easter Argosy Ship, including letters from donors to be presented to Princess Marie José of Belgium's royal family. New York state sent its own vessel of food before Easter as well. Other states followed with food ships to feed Belgium too. Food aid from the United States saved many lives in Belgium that Easter and during the remainder of the war.

This Easter we also need to take action to feed the world's hungry. The war in Ukraine has suddenly led to millions of hungry refugees in just a matter of weeks. The supply of wheat in Ukraine, which Yemen and another nations depend on to eat, has been disrupted by the conflict. This is catastrophic. Global food prices are skyrocketing.

At the same time there is escalating hunger in Afghanistan, where nearly 23 million people are in need of food. Afghanistan's hunger has worsened in the last year because of instability and drought. Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and the Sahel region are other areas where hunger is also quickly worsening.

Easter is a turning point. We can save millions of lives from famine and look again to history for inspiration.

At Easter in 1946, President Harry Truman scaled back festivities in order to save food for the starving people of the world. Truman reduced his Easter dinner to promote food conservation and he canceled the White House Easter egg roll.

Just one year after World War II existed the biggest threat of famine the globe had ever seen. Food production lay in ruins in Europe and Asia. Harsh winter weather further harmed agriculture.

Food shortages in Somalia
Severe drought is causing food shortages in Somalia, another front in the biggest global hunger crisis since World War II. Georgina Goodwin/CARE

There was danger that more people would die of hunger than during the fighting. President Truman wrote, "Our national self-respect and our duties as human beings demands that we do all possible to stop the spread of famine."

Truman organized a Famine Emergency Committee and pressed former President Herbert Hoover into action as a food ambassador to rally world supplies. Hoover visited over 40 countries and reported to Truman and the American public on the condition of all of them. A special emphasis of Hoover's team was ensuring each nation had feeding programs for infant and school age children. Soon over 10 million children in Germany, Japan, Austria and other nations were regularly having school meals instead of suffering in hunger. A generation was saved.

Child from Ukraine greets a WFP worker
This Easter refugee children need food and hope. Here a child from Ukraine greets a WFP aid worker at a food distribution center at the Ukraine-Moldova border. Millions are fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Relief agencies need more funding to keep up with the crisis. Giulio d'Adamo/WFP

The American people were very moved by Hoover's reports, and they donated through overseas relief committees.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) held a food drive at thousands of parishes, collecting donations for war-torn countries. Right after Easter, a new charity sprang into action called CARE, which sent its first food packages to the hungry in Europe. CARE is also in action today worldwide, feeding refugees from Ukraine.

Ships packed with food
For Easter in 1915, ships packed with food from Americans sailed to Belgium to feed starving victims of the German invasion in World War I. Photo Courtesy of the National Archives

At Easter in 1946, the American public and the government took action to feed the hungry and ultimately saved millions from starvation.

This Easter, as part of festivities, you can donate to charities like the World Food Program, CARE, CRS, Mercy Corps, Action Against Hunger, Save the Children, Edesia and others fighting global hunger. Even giving a small portion of the average Easter Day spending could make a difference to the hungry. We can rise to the challenge and stop famine again today.

William Lambers is an author who partnered with the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) on the book Ending World Hunger. His writings have been published by The Washington Post, History News Network, Cleveland's The Plain Dealer and many other news outlets. Lambers recently volunteered to write the Hunger Heroes section of WFP's online learning game Freerice.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.