Eisenhower’s ‘Santa Claus mission’ needs protected to feed the hungry

Christmas is a time of goodwill toward mankind, but it can also be a time of good foreign policy. That is if our leaders do the right thing.

When Dwight Eisenhower became president he started Operation Santa Claus (aka Operation Reindeer) in 1953 to provide food packages to hungry people overseas.

Eisenhower sought to build world peace and one of the most effective ways was through food. The Christmas spirit could be year round bringing food and goodwill to the impoverished. Feeding the hungry became a major part of Eisenhower’s foreign policy plan.

During his first summer in office, Eisenhower sent food packages to starving East Germans living under Soviet Communist control. This was a critical moment early in the Cold War.

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.”

The Berlin packages and Operation Santa Claus led to the start of the Food for Peace program, the United States main tool for fighting world hunger. It is Food for Peace that should be a pillar of our national security strategy today.

President Trump, earlier this year, proposed eliminating Food for Peace and other hunger fighting programs. This would be a terrible mistake. We need to increase our food aid.

This is especially crucial with so many nations suffering from hunger because of war, drought and poverty. With hunger comes instability and chaos. But with food comes hope and the chance for peace and progress.

Food for Peace has brought nutrition and stability to many nations including South Korea, Germany, Brazil, Japan, Italy and many others that have now become humanitarian donors themselves.

Today, Food for Peace donations fight hunger in Syria, Iraq and many other nations in distress. Food for Peace is the single largest donor to the UN World Food Program, the lead organization feeding the hungry. Other relief agencies such as Catholic Relief Services and Save the Children also receive Food for Peace donations so they can carry out their vital relief work.

The Syrian civil war has displaced millions of civilians, leaving them without food supplies. The WFP and other agencies are their only hope, but they need funding. As WFP spokesperson Dina Elkassaby says, Food for Peace often “saves the day” in Syria, providing relief at the critical moments.

But we need to sustain that funding and also expand it to tackle the many hunger emergencies around the globe. What we need today is more of Food for Peace. Congress should step up the funding especially as famine threatens four nations: Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria.

Congress gives around $1.5 billion to Food for Peace in a regular year. This must be expanded to at least $3 billion a year to reach more hungry people. Even with a funding increase, Food for Peace would remain a relatively tiny part of the federal budget.

Coupled with the McGovern-Dole global school lunch program, Food for Peace can help bring many nations back from the brink of despair.

As this Christmas arrives, think of what food packages can mean to a refugee family living in hunger. Then imagine that food coming year round. That is what Food for Peace can do, feed the hungry and help restore communities and nations to health and stability.

Eisenhower and Santa Claus had it right. Food can make a big difference in winning the peace in our world.

William Lambers is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Programme on the book “Ending World Hunger.” He writes on HuffPost, History News Network, The Hill and many other news outlets.