President Hoover's WWI Food Relief/Iowa Couple Helps Syrian Refugees

Feb 20, 2017

Before the United States entered World War I, Herbert Hoover, then a private citizen, organized  he Commission for Relief in Belgium to feed seven million in need.  This was the largest food relief effort up that time in history.  To discuss this massive humanitarian effort, Charity speaks with Matthew Schaefer, archivist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch.

Schaefer told us that Hoover was an Iowa orphan "who became a successful mining engineer, world traveler and logistical genius."  While living in London, Hoover headed the Committee of American Residents, which helped European tourists get back home to the states after the war broke out.  Later, the man who would become our 31st president began his efforts to rescue an entire nation from starvation.   Belgium during the war, Schaefer told Charity, was desperately short of food because even though it was a huge manufacturing center, the country imported most of its food and the invading German army took what was there for its troops.

Schaefer said millions were hungry in Belgium, and Hoover overcame many diplomatic and fundraising challenges in order to get food and clothing to those in need.  Thank you gifts were sent to Hoover from Belgium in the form of school photos and beautiful embroidered flour sacks, many of which are on display at the museum in West Branch.  Hoover, Schaefer said, was a pragmatist and didn't set out to head the largest food relief effort in history, but instead "He just saw a problem and dealt with it.   His mission was to keep the food moving, his attitude was simply, 'Can I help'?"

Later in the hour, Charity speaks with Ethan and Bethany Anderson of West Liberty.  They will be leaving for Jordan in April to assist the many Syrian refugees who have crossed the border and settled in the city of Mafraq.  Ethan told us that he and Bethany, who both grew up in Muscatine, have like many people in the last five years, been watching the situation in Syria.  "It breaks our hearts," he told us.  They started wondering what they could possibly to help.  "Giving money is fine, but you always wonder how much of it actually reaches the people in need.  We're very hands-on people."

Ethan and Bethany will be working near the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world, Zaatari, with 80,000 residents.  Bethany told us, "It will be be real people we will be working with--assisting them with practical things, such as mattresses, cook stoves and supplemental food and some teaching as well."   We wish them a safe and successful trip.