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Singing Telegrams, Congress and Food Aid

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Western Union was in the news this week with its revival of the singing telegram—although updated to include email delivery.

This company of course has a deep history of sending telegrams, whether the most urgent kind or the singing variety. One day in 1962 a Western Union telegram was sent to Congress urging them to save a program that provided school meals to children in Poland and Yugoslavia.

In June 1962, during the Kennedy administration, Congress was considering termination of aid to Poland and Yugoslavia, both under Communist control. Hugh D. Farley, the director of Church World Service, was upset with this prospect and sent a telegram to three Senators.

Farley urged the senators not to cut food aid programs in these two countries. The programs were reaching over two million children with school meals. Orphanages and homes for the aged were also receiving food support. Farley told the Senators the cutting of aid would be “difficult for children to understand” and that “people to people” programs should be continued.

He also alerted George McGovern about the telegram. McGovern had been appointed by President Kennedy as the director of the Food for Peace program that oversaw these food aid initiatives. Food for Peace was started by President Dwight Eisenhower and President Kennedy continued and strengthened the program, placing special emphasis on school feeding.

McGovern wrote back to Farley the next day telling him of an amendment approved by the Senate “providing presidential authority for continued food assistance to Poland and Yugoslavia.” McGovern wrote, “I am sure that your expression to the Senators was helpful.”

Saving meals for children was the right thing to do in 1962 and it is right again in 2011. Church World Service is urging the same type of advocacy by citizens to tell Congress not to cut food aid programs in the upcoming budget. The Food for Peace program, as well as the McGovern-Dole school lunch program, are at risk of budget cuts.

With famine in East Africa and many other hunger crisis points unfolding, food aid needs to be bolstered, not reduced.

Church World Service says, “Further cuts to humanitarian foreign assistance will result in countless additional people going hungry and many more children losing their lives to preventable and treatable diseases. Preserving robust, well-targeted foreign assistance will save millions of lives, build self-reliance among the world’s most vulnerable, and help protect our own national security in the process.”

There is also quite a controversy over why Congress is making cuts to food aid since it already is such a relatively inexpensive program. Food aid makes up less than one tenth of one percent of the federal budget. International assistance programs, such as food aid and other programs like malaria treatments, come out to around one percent of the total budget. The relatively low cost of these aid programs is not widely known either.

Church World Service reports, “Polls show that many Americans believe that international assistance is 25 percent or more of U.S. spending. That makes it an easy target for members of Congress. But in fact, when these same Americans are asked how much U.S. aid for poor families abroad should be, they support levels between 6-10 percent!”

Save the Children, World Vision, the World Food Program USA, and other agencies are urging Congress to save food aid from budget cuts. They are asking citizens to make their voices heard before it’s too late. Calls, emails, tweets, faxes are all being urged for reaching your representatives. A singing telegram? Well, if it works, why not?

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.