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William Lambers: Remember the Hungry This Easter

William Lambers partnered with the UN World Food Programme on the book Ending World Hunger. He is a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.

A survey by the National Retail Federation says Americans will spend about 17.2 billion dollars on Easter this year.

Imagine if that spending could be changed, just even a little bit. If one billion of that amount went to global hunger relief it could fund humanitarian emergencies in war devastated Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Mali and other countries.

At the time of Easter 1946 Americans cut back on festivities in order to help those suffering in countries leveled by World War II. While the hard fought war had been won, the peace had not. Hunger was enemy that remained. The U.S. Army in Austria, for instance, was helping provide school meals to hungry children.

Americans listened to the plea of President Harry Truman around Easter when he warned, "we cannot ignore the cry of hungry children. Surely we will not turn our backs on the millions of human beings begging for just a crust of bread. The warm heart of America will respond to the greatest threat of mass starvation in the history of mankind."

Truman canceled the White House egg roll as part of the nationwide effort to conserve food. The Gramercy Boys Club in the Bronx, New York created arm bands with the reminder “Don’t waste food.” They canceled their own Easter Egg hunt and decided to send their candy to the children in Europe. Americans rallied to send as much food as they could overseas whether it was through buying CARE packages or community collections.

The first 20,000 CARE packages of food arrived in France a couple weeks after Easter. In Cincinnati, Ohio firehouses, schools, and food stores served as collection points for a city-wide canned good drive. In May the Cincinnati Enquirer reported the city had sent 10 tons of food off to Europe with more collections to come. One Cincinnati man even donated an entire paycheck to the relief effort.

Herbert Hoover, who led hunger relief after both World Wars, penned the series of books on America’s life-saving efforts called An American Epic. Americans can today can start writing the next volume by their actions in this turbulent time in the world.

War and drought disasters are placing millions at risk of starvation. The conflict in Syria has destroyed food production factories and even if the fighting mercifully ended today it will takes years to rebuild the supply system. Both war and drought have struck at Mali and the Sahel region of Africa. In South Sudan people are living off foods from the wild because of internal conflict and poor harvests. In Afghanistan, very little is told about the hunger that makes about 60 percent of its youngest children stunted in growth. In Haiti, there is still much to be done to fight hunger and help the country rebuild.

Infant children are the most vulnerable to these disasters but a small sachet of the peanut paste Plumpy'Nut, which costs about 33 cents, can save them. It's a nutrient rich food that some say tastes similar to a Peanut Butter Cup.

Even today there are ways to feed the hungry without spending a nickel. If you go online and play FreeRice you raise money every time you answer a question correctly. If you go to CharityMiles.org you can download a free app and go run, walk or bile to raise money for the World Food Programme or Feeding America. There is hunger within America’s border too with 50 million plus in need.

This Easter nothing could be more important than saving the lives of the hungry. There is more than enough food on the planet for everyone. No more important steps could be taken toward peace than relieving this crushing agony of hunger that afflicts 870 million people around the globe. The message of Easter is to stop that suffering and renew the world.