Christmas is coming and all eyes are on the sky for Rudolph, his fellow reindeer and, of course, Santa Claus. Back in 1953 Santa's sled was extra heavy, with hundreds of thousands of food packages for the hungry worldwide.
That year President Dwight Eisenhower started "Operation Reindeer." He wanted to build goodwill with Christmas food packages to fight global hunger. Everyone got involved. Charities, the U.S. military, and also the public took part in either buying the CARE packages or making the deliveries.
Germany, Japan, Austria, Korea, and Italy were some of the countries that received the Christmas food gifts. All of these nations had recently been scarred by war and were trying to overcome the resulting poverty.
"Operation Reindeer" was an opening chapter in the U.S. Food for Peace era. What better way to build a peaceful world than by ensuring all could have the food and nutrition they needed to survive and develop?
When Eisenhower took office, the United States had a growing surplus of food. Worldwide, though, there were hungry people. It made sense to send this food abroad to the needy.
The food would mean something more too. It would connect Americans to people overseas. Food would form a friendship. Food would unite. Food would be a bridge to peace.
Someone who received an Operation Reindeer package in Germany said, "It reminds us that we have not been forgotten." One German wrote, "Tell Americans that they have admirers in Germany."
In Austria, a governor said that "his country is very grateful and the only reason that recovery has been so miraculous has been due to U.S. aid and friendship." Another remarked, "This food package program makes the man on the street in Austria appreciate the friendship of the U.S."
After Operation Reindeer ended, one of the officials was asked, "Why isn't such a program wider in scope?" Observers of Operation Reindeer felt that more publicity about the program would have further enhanced this public diplomacy outreach.
Also, it would highlight the needs in these countries. In Italy, Mr. Newton Leonard, sent by the U.S. to observe the aid, wrote, "We wished that the packages weighed a hundred pounds for we realized how quickly the contents of the packages would be consumed by the hungry and ill children and adults." Leonard recommended a Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program with emphasis on child feeding, including school meals.