PHOTO: Food for Peace

The largest milk donation under the “Food for Peace” program leaving from Brooklyn, NY in 1962 on its way to Brazil. (Left to right: Brazilian Ambassador Roberto de Oliveira Campos; Capt. Timothy Harrington; and George McGovern, director of the Food for Peace program. 

IRIS Gabriel had an idea. The year was 1947 and with Thanksgiving Day approaching, the activist dreamed of a special way to celebrate.

At Thanksgiving meals, everyone could set an extra plate for an imaginary or “silent guest,” one of the world’s hungry. A donation could be made to buy food for your “silent guest.”

Gabriel ran with the idea and got Gov. Robert Bradford of Massachusetts to endorse it. That led to every other governor across the country joining in. Americans fed thousands of “silent guests” during the 1947 holiday. The donations bought CARE packages of food, which were sent overseas to feed the hungry in war-torn Europe.



It was only two years after World War II and there had not been recovery from the massive conflict. Drought had struck early in 1947, causing even more food shortages.

President Harry Truman was so alarmed, he made addresses to the nation about the food crisis in Europe. Secretary of State George Marshall warned that hunger would threaten the reconstruction of Europe and his proposed Marshall Plan.

Through the “silent guest” campaign Americans were feeding the hungry and promoting peace. This was not the only action Americans were taking either. The Friendship Train ran coast to coast that fall, collecting donations of food for Europe.

This activism from American citizens helped to inspire the Congress to act. They passed an interim food aid legislation just before Christmas to help Europe. The following year, the Marshall Plan was passed, and this led to the rebuilding of Europe. George Marshall won the Nobel Prize for this peace effort.

Sharing in the spirit of that award were all the American citizens who donated through the “silent guest” and the Friendship Train programs. They did their part to win the peace after World War II.

We should remember today how important feeding the hungry is for world peace. We should also remember that every citizen can do his or her part. The fundraising and advocacy you carry out will make a difference.

Your actions can inspire Congress today to take action against hunger at home and abroad. Congress should pass the global nutrition resolution (H.Res 189 and S. 260) to commit to ending malnutrition. They should also increase funding for the Food for Peace program and McGovern–Dole global school lunches.

There are major hunger emergencies right now in civil war-torn Yemen and Syria. The Horn of Africa and Southern Africa are also facing major food shortages because of drought. The Sahel region of Africa continues to suffer from conflict and drought.

Central African Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Haiti and many other countries are also experiencing hunger. There can be no peace or progress in these nations unless people can get basic nutrition.

The UN World Food Program, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, UNICEF, Action against Hunger, World Vision and others are short on funding.

But this Thanksgiving you could help them by setting aside a place at your table for a “silent guest.” The world hunger relief charities and your local foodbank need the support. You can make this Thanksgiving about food for peace.

William Lambers is an author and historian who partnered with the UN World Food Program on the book, “Ending World Hunger.”

William Lambers is an author and historian who partnered with the UN World Food Program on the book, "Ending World Hunger."

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