Home The Washington Diplomat Celebrities, politicians to mark 75th anniversary of the ‘CARE Package’

Celebrities, politicians to mark 75th anniversary of the ‘CARE Package’

Celebrities, politicians to mark 75th anniversary of the ‘CARE Package’
Hungarian refugees crowd around a hand truck full of CARE food packages in the courtyard of a former Austrian orphanage near Vienna that in 1946 served as a reception camp for 600 Hungarian refugees. Each package contained 22 pounds of U.S. government surplus food. (Photo by Anja Engelke/CARE)

Not many US foreign aid programs are so popular they become household names or evolve into expressions used in everyday speech.

One that did was the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE). Established in 1945 to send food relief to starving Europeans in the aftermath of World War II, the original “CARE Package” weighed 20 pounds and consisted of canned staples such as beef and luncheon meat, as well as margarine, honey, raisins, chocolate, powdered milk and sugar.

Some 20,000 such parcels—all surplus US Army rations—arrived from Philadelphia to the French port of Le Havre on May 11, 1946. Over the next two decades, Americans donated more than 100 million CARE Packages to hungry recipients around the world, and CARE USA has evolved into a leading international charity with an annual budget of $650 million.

Today, the generic term “CARE package” has come to mean any parcel of food or goodies sent as a gift to anyone—whether the recipient is the victim of a natural disaster or a college student missing familiar snacks from back home.

Aid workers in war-torn Yemen distribute emergency supplies. (Photo by Hamza Al-Qadimi/CARE)

To mark the 75th anniversary of the world’s first CARE Package, the Atlanta-based nonprofit is hosting a series of online events, starting with a May 11 virtual gathering that featured remarks by former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as a pre-recorded welcome from President Joe Biden.

“Our family’s connection to CARE run deep,” Obama said in a Twitter video message. “My sister Auma has worked with CARE in Kenya, and Michelle and I have been fans of your work for years. We’ve seen the difference you make in the lives of families around the world. So to the CARE staff, thank you for what you do.”

Hosted by actress Whoopi Goldberg, the event also included appearances by music producer David Foster; poet Amanda Gorman; singer-songwriters Judith Hill and Esther Lewis; actress Isabella Rossellini; and the Northwell Health Nurse Choir, among other performers.

Two days later, on May 13, three former secretaries of state—Madeleine Albright, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry—will discuss the current foreign policy challenges facing the United States in a virtual discussion moderated by CNN’s Laura Coates.

And finally, on June 9, CARE’s chef advocate, Spike Mendelsohn, presents a virtual celebrity cook-off that will challenge contestants to prepare inventive and delicious meals using only items in the original CARE Package.

Over the rubble of war-battered 1946 Berlin, a father carries home a CARE food package to relieve his family’s needs while waiting for better times. (Photo by Anja Engelke/CARE)

“We are very much looking forward to commemorating the extraordinary history of our organization,” Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE USA, told the Washington Diplomat by phone from Atlanta.

CARE, in its mission statement, says “we save lives, defeat poverty, achieve social justice, and fight for women and girls.” Interestingly, it stopped delivering “CARE Packages” long ago.

“Now our packages come in the form of emergency hospitals in India, or ensuring that millions of girls have the opportunity to complete their secondary education, or supporting mothers so they can give birth safely,” said Nunn, adding that last year, CARE USA reached more than 92 million people in need.

CARE USA, active in 100 countries, reached more than 90 million people through 1,300 projects in 2020. The organization receives about a third of its budget from the US government, another third from institutional donors such as the United Nations and the European Union, and the final third from foundations, corporations and private individuals.

Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of CARE USA, meets with women at CARE’s community center in
Amman, Jordan, on June 21, 2018. (Photo by Carey Wagner/CARE)

“We do both continuing emergency response, so the COVID-19 crisis in India is an example of that. We also work in Syria, Yemen and South Sudan—often in the form of cash transfers that enable these people to get the supplies they need in times of crisis,” Nunn said. “But we also do long-term development. For example, we coordinate the largest micro-savings program in the world, in over 50 countries.”

Companies that have helped CARE USA with its COVID-19 response in India are Blackstone, Cisco and UPS, while Abbott, Mars and Tiffany & Co. have assisted with the organization’s larger COVID response globally.

Nunn, 54, is a familiar figure in American philanthropic circles. The daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Georgia)—who from 1987 to 1995 chaired the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee— she ran unsuccessfully in the 2014 race for Georgia’s US Senate seat. In 2006, Georgia Trend magazine named her one of the 100 most influential Georgians, and in 2010, she received a Global Ambassador of Youth Award for her work with volunteer organizations.

Nunn became president and CEO of CARE USA in July 2015. Among other things, she has traveled to Syrian refugee camps in both Jordan and Turkey. The charity has made alleviating suffering in war-torn Yemen one of its main priorities; in fact, CARE has been present in Yemen since 1992, with regional offices in Amran, Hajjah, Taiz and Aden. Each year, CARE reaches 3.4 million of the most vulnerable Yemenis by providing emergency cash and essential food, water and sanitation services.

Gabby Dirden, a CARE contractor, helps Walter Ballard collect food and water for his family on Feb. 25, 2021, during Bethel’s Heavenly Hands food and water distribution in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Laura Noel/CARE)

Around the world, the coronavirus pandemic has impoverished hundreds of millions of people, she said—and the situation is especially dire in India, which is now recording more than 400,000 new COVID infections daily.

“During this past year, we have worked in 60 countries to respond to the COVID crisis—everything from supporting community health workers in trying to stop the spread of the disease, to addressing secondary crises like hunger and gender-based violence,” said Nunn. “We’re now helping vaccinate over 60 million people in low-income countries, and building temporary hospitals in India”—particularly in the hard-hit states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Despite economic hardships at home, Nunn said “people have been extraordinary generous” when it comes to charitable giving.

“Surprisingly, our donations have kept pace over this year,” she said. “We were profoundly worried about that, but corporations, individuals and foundations have dug deep and supported us. We have felt very heartened by that.”

Larry Luxner

Miami native Larry Luxner, a veteran journalist and photographer, has reported from more than 100 countries in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia for a variety of news outlets. He lived for many years in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the Washington, D.C., area before relocating to Israel in January 2017. Larry has been news editor of The Washington Diplomat since 2005.