By William Lambers
With the election behind us, it’s time to focus on a major hunger crisis here at home and abroad. There are 50 million people hungry in the United States. Worldwide there are 870 million starving people, a major cause of instability.
We don’t need to wait, though, for the president and the Congress to act. I was reminded by Elizabeth Paff, a leadership student at the College of Mount St. Joseph on the Ohio River, that in America action starts from the grass roots. She wrote: “It has to start with someone out there, so why not me?”
In 1947, along the Ohio River, that same leadership spirit was in action when a train rolled by as part of a nationwide tour collecting food for war-torn Europe. The Friendship Train, as it was called, was powered by the initiative and generosity of everyday Americans. The Buffalo area was included among the stops of the Friendship Train. These donations came when the recovery of Europe was still very much at risk. Winter was fast setting in with food supplies running low.
George Marshall, then secretary of state, said, “From this time on … every man, woman and child in this country will exert a direct personal influence on the course of international affairs.” And they most certainly did in helping feed Europe’s hungry. The Friendship Train preceded one of our most successful foreign policy initiatives, the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe from the ashes of World War II.
Every American today can have a similar influence, whether feeding war refugees and flood victims in South Sudan or a hungry person in Syria or Afghanistan displaced by conflict. If everyone became a leader, had their own type of “Friendship Train,” this would be the biggest contribution to peace that can be made.
It does not take much to make a difference. Even one dollar buys a week’s worth of meals for a child. A church I visited had a collection jar for such a purpose called Change for a Change. Anyone with a computer can play the online game FreeRice and raise funds for the World Food Programme. Organizing a fundraising road race or walk in your community can also send a powerful message that world hunger is a top priority.
Leadership is needed at home, too. That is where citizens can take the lead in organizing canned good collections or online fundraisers. Athletes can use a cellphone app called Charity Miles to raise money for Feeding America as well as the World Food Programme. Combining your charitable acts with messages to the president and the Congress can make leadership contagious.
Today, there is enough food worldwide to feed all the hungry at home and abroad. It’s not a question of resources as much as leadership. That is where you can come in to take charge in confronting the food crisis facing our planet.
William Lambers is the author of “Ending World Hunger” and “The Spirit of the Marshall Plan.”