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Opinion: Our leaders can learn humanitarian aid from Eisenhower this Thanksgiving

William Lambers

In 1945, General Dwight Eisenhower and Congress worked during the Thanksgiving holiday to provide humanitarian aid to the poor and hungry.  

Today, we should expect Congress and the president to skip holiday recess and work over Thanksgiving to get a coronavirus relief bill passed. Efforts to pass relief legislation have been stalled for months. Americans are suffering from the fast growing COVID-19 pandemic and its harsh economic impact of job losses.

Families are struggling to put food on the table this Thanksgiving, and are turning to foodbanks for help in record numbers. Feeding America says “Food banks have consistently seen a 60% increase in demand compared to this time last year, and continue to require more food and resources to provide to people in need.”

General Eisenhower worked on Thanksgiving day in 1945 advocating to Congress for hunger relief in war-torn Europe, Lambers writes.

Congress should increase funding for the SNAP food stamp program that gives impoverished families more purchasing power at grocery stores. It’s a form of economic stimulus with stores benefiting as well. Funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program that supplies foodbanks should also be increased.

We are not only contending with hunger at home during the pandemic, but a full scale emergency abroad. The World Food Program (WFP) and the charity CARE are warning that Yemen, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Northeast Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are facing the threat of famine. People are literally starving to death as the Thanksgiving holiday arrives.

Other countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Honduras, Ethiopia are also in hunger emergencies. WFP director David Beasley said earlier this month, “These are truly unprecedented times. We’re facing the threat of famine in multiple countries, while COVID-19, conflict and weather crises are sending hunger rates sky-rocketing in many parts of the world.”

Yet coronavirus aid packages, which include funding for global food aid, remain stalled in Congress.

Our leaders must throw a lifeline to the sick and the hungry by passing coronavirus relief legislation. They should work over the Thanksgiving break until it’s done. They can even do so virtually since we have the technology.  The election is over and political differences must be put aside for what would be life-saving legislation.

Bread for the World states “we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. It is essential for us to heal the political divide and pass a COVID relief bill that helps individuals and families still struggling with hunger and poverty in the U.S. and around the world.”

General Eisenhower worked on Thanksgiving day in 1945 advocating to Congress for hunger relief in war-torn Europe. Yes, the Congress was in session on Thanksgiving that year.

Eisenhower delivered powerful testimony that led to Congress approving relief funding to the United Nations (UNRRA) to feed the hungry.

Ike said, "There are few places in Europe today where people are not cold, hungry and apprehensive of the future" and that "the ravished nations of the world are looking to UNRRA for their relief."

Eisenhower explained "now that the fighting has ceased and the danger is less obvious, it is perhaps difficult for people in this country to visualize the desperate needs of the people of Europe and the necessity, if our military victory is to have lasting significance, of our successfully completing the job of making a peaceful world. "

Feeding the world’s hungry is just as important today as it was after World War II. The pandemic has caused the biggest global hunger crisis since WWII.

We need Congress and the president working round the clock on coronavirus relief legislation that would include stimulus checks for American families. Food aid at home and abroad must be increased by Congress in this bill, so the pipeline of supplies is moving to all in need. That is what Americans should expect of our leaders this Thanksgiving holiday.

William Lambers is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Program, the 2020 Nobel Prize Winner, on the book Ending World Hunger. His writings have been published by the USA Today, Chicago Sun Times, Columbus Dispatch, History News Network and many other news outlets.