By William Lambers
Imagine a mystery guest coming to your Thanksgiving dinner, one you have never met.
After World War II, that is what happened in thousands of American households. But it was an imaginary guest, one of the world’s hungry.
The “silent guest” campaign of 1947-48 asked Americans to open up their hearts and share their Thanksgiving bounty. Gov. Robert Bradford of Massachusetts, a descendant of the Pilgrims who started Thanksgiving, proclaimed the new tradition of feeding a silent guest at the holiday meal.
American families were asked to donate the cost of feeding their silent guest to a committee in Plymouth, Mass.
Checks poured in by mail. One was even made out to William Bradford, who was the governor of Plymouth colony for the first Thanksgiving.
The silent guest donations from Americans led to CARE packages of food being sent to starving families overseas. This was crucial for many countries in Europe still reeling from the destruction caused by World War II. Drought had struck in the summer of 1947, causing severe food shortages.
The food from the silent guest helped keep Europe afloat until the U.S.-backed Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe could kick in. As Secretary of State George Marshall said, “food is the very basis of all reconstruction.”
The silent guest idea was started by an activist named Iris Gabriel. She approached Bradford with the plan and eventually governors across the United States were on board. It was giving thanks by giving.
It’s a spirit we must keep with us today. Fighting world hunger is no less important than it was in 1947.
The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) and other relief agencies are facing an incredible challenge with hunger emergencies.
There are hungry refugees from the wars in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic and nations affected by the Boko Haram conflict. Catholic
Relief Services says that in Madagascar over 1 million people need food aid because of severe drought. In Haiti, the impact of Hurricane Matthew will be felt for months to come. Agriculture was severely damaged and the WFP is trying to help farmers and feed children school meals.
The biggest humanitarian disaster in the world is the war in Syria. The WFP is trying to feed over 7 million Syrians each month. That is more than the entire population of Massachusetts.
That is why students at Mount St. Joseph University in Ohio are reviving the silent guest tradition for this Thanksgiving. Students of the Mount’s Impact Club (Monica Brucher, Andi Saylor, Courtney Reed and Brittany Hein) are urging everyone to feed a silent guest at this year’s Thanksgiving and help the WFP.
You can join them by simply setting aside a place in your heart and your holiday table while donating to a charity fighting hunger.
Give thanks by giving. By doing so you can take the greatest step toward world peace.
William Lambers is an author who partnered with the U.N. World Food Programme on the book “Ending World Hunger.”