In advance of his first Christmas as president, Dwight Eisenhower teamed up with Santa Claus to change the world. That holiday season in 1953, the United States sent food packages abroad to feed the hungry. Operation Reindeer and Operation Santa Claus were the code names for this mission.
Germany, Austria, Italy and other countries received the food. These nations were still recovering from the destruction of World War II.
The U.S. Army took part in the Christmas food package plan. A report exclaimed, “Hats off to the generosity of the American soldier who dug deep into his own pocket to give the children of Austria a happy Christmas.”
Eisenhower was exploring ways to use food to build peace. The United States had plenty of food, so it made perfect sense to feed the hungry overseas instead of having it go to waste. There could be no peace or stability if people were starving.
That previous summer, Eisenhower had sent food to Soviet-dominated East Germany when there were shortages. This was a key moment in the Cold War.
Adviser Harold Stassen wrote, “The East Germans remembered who fed them when they starved and remain grateful to this day. … The whole world can thank Dwight Eisenhower for reaching out to feed the hungry Germans.”
Operation Santa Claus went on for two holidays before the United States Food for Peace program took effect. This initiative has been our main tool for fighting world hunger ever since. Food for Peace has saved millions of lives and helped countries through the most difficult of times.
Food for Peace essentially made the Santa Claus food packages a year-round event.
In 1960, at the United Nations, Eisenhower even proposed an international food-for-peace effort, with numerous countries donating. This would become reality during the Kennedy administration with the creation of the U.N. World Food Program (WFP). Food for Peace is the single largest donor to WFP.
Today, we need to fight hunger more than ever. Wars in Yemen, Syria, the Sahel of Africa, Ukraine, South Sudan and many other areas have left record numbers of hungry and displaced people. Yemen is on the brink of famine with 20 million people in hunger. A huge amount of resources will be needed to feed them.
That means Congress should increase funding for Food for Peace. Currently Food for Peace gets around $1.5 billion a year, a relatively tiny part of the federal budget. We can increase it to keep pace with the ever-increasing needs abroad.
We should also increase school lunches overseas through the McGovern-Dole program. The school meals fight hunger in needy countries while also keeping the children in class learning.
Santa Claus brings happiness for children every year at Christmas time. With Food for Peace we can make that happiness last year round for every person in the world.
Author William Lambers partnered with the U.N. World Food Program and Catholic Relief Services on the book “Ending World Hunger.”