Guest columnist William Lambers: Share Thanksgiving with the world’s hungry


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Published: 11-22-2023 4:00 PM

It was Thanksgiving in 1963 when a group of 25 people in Plymouth, Massachusetts had an idea: Let’s skip Thanksgiving dinner. These men and women, in the town where America’s first Thanksgiving was held by the Pilgrims, decided to fast at Plymouth’s First Church.

The group donated the cost of their Thanksgiving dinners to the U.N. World Food Program to feed the hungry. The Hartford Courant reported on this plan to draw attention to the world’s hungry.

“Our purpose is simply to focus attention on the hunger needs of millions overseas who have little or nothing to eat on this day. We do not feel that the usual practice of holiday gluttony is in keeping with the desperate plight of half the world’s population,” said a minister participating in the event.

By donating to the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) these Plymouth activists helped a new agency started by President John F. Kennedy. The WFP was an experiment of an international food for peace effort. The experiment was a success. Today, the WFP is the largest hunger relief organization leading food aid missions in war zones and countries impacted by natural disasters.

As this year’s Thanksgiving arrives, hunger emergencies are dangerously escalating around the globe. War and climate change are the main cause behind the extreme hunger in the most affected nations.

The WFP and U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization sounded the alarm with a new report warning “acute food insecurity is likely to deteriorate further in 18 hunger hotspots — comprising a total of 22 countries or territories including 2 regional clusters — during the outlook period from November 2023 to April 2024.”

The report says that “Burkina Faso, Mali, South Sudan and the Sudan remain at the highest concern level. Palestine was added to the list of countries/territories of highest concern due to the severe escalation of conflict in October 2023.”

Furthermore, the report states that Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Pakistan, Somalia, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen are hotspots of very high concern.”

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These are all nations facing starvation or dangerously spiraling toward it. Whether it’s war or drought, growing food becomes a nearly impossible task. Think of families, who depend on farming for a living, being displaced by war. They lose access to food supplies and their children are facing malnutrition. They need the help of hunger relief agencies to survive.

On Thanksgiving you can support life-aving missions of humanitarian aid organizations by including them in your plans. You could donate to a charity fighting hunger like WFP, CARE, Save the Children, Mary’s Meals, Catholic Relief Services, UNICEF, Mercy Corps, Edesia and so many others. You can write a letter to Congress about increasing funding for global food aid.

With the massive level of hunger emergencies ongoing, funding is too low for relief agencies. In some cases the WFP has been forced to reduce rations because of the funding shortfalls.

There needs to be more public support to help humanitarian organizations to keep pace with the growing hunger crisis. As past generations have done, you can take action to feed the hungry on Thanksgiving.

William Lambers is an author who partnered with the U.N. World Food Program on the book “Ending World Hunger.”