Although this feeding program was the first official effort by the United States to address the hunger and malnutrition that haunted Germany after World War I, Quakers had been aware of the problem for several years. This is the story about what led to their knowledge.
Before the war ended, AFSC volunteers in France oversaw the work of German prisoners of war who were assigned to help rebuild the country. The French government forbade any payment to be made to the Germans, as protocol of war. However, Quakers felt this to be unfair and kept records of the number of hours the men worked and the normal wage for the type of work they were doing. For reference, photographs were taken of the men.
When the war ended in 1918, a number of Quakers visited Germany, taking word to prisoners' families about their loved ones' fates. They used the photos to identify prisoners, and they paid the families the money the Quakers felt the men had rightfully earned. For many people, that money was crucial to feeding their families in those lean months and getting back on their feet.
These trips into Germany gave Quakers an opportunity to observe conditions. In 1919 the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) sent three women to further investigate conditions and prepare a report. The three women--Carolena Woods, Jane Addams, and Alice Hamilton--reported widespread malnutrition, particularly among children.
Later that year, Herbert Hoover asked the Service Committee to carry out his massive feeding program in Germany. Hoover had collected large sums of money through the American Relief Administration. This was placed at the disposal of the AFSC, and, in four years' time, the AFSC was feeding one million German children per day. Money raised from other sources aided this effort.
In an interview many years later, one of the Germans who received food in that program as a child said, "It was cocoa mainly that we were given. . . . This was warm and sweet, and the memory of that means that the early memory I have of the Quakers is of warmth and sweetness.
By Jack Sutters, February 2001