The Friendship Train that fought global hunger has been the subject of my recent articles in the Des Moines Register and San Francisco Chronicle. Someone who remembered the Friendship Train told me, “Everybody loves trains.”
The Associated Press reported back in 1948 that there were two people in Nebraska who had a “complaint” about the Friendship Train. They were disappointed it could not make a stop in their area. So what did they do? They started their own train.
They called it the Abraham Lincoln Friendship Train. The charity Church World Service came to support this train through its Christian Rural Overseas Program (CROP). Today this same group operates hunger walks all around the country which support food aid both at home and abroad.
A poster during the World War I hunger crisis featuring President Lincoln and a quote from his second inaugural message in 1865. (National Archives)
In 1948, the Abraham Lincoln Friendship Train got its start in Lincoln, Nebraska and went across the Midwest picking up more food for Europe. More trains followed. States like Ohio had their own trains picking up wheat and dried milk to be shipped to Europe for the holidays.
The response was so great that train delays took place because so much food was being donated by Americans. Newspaper reports at that time estimated over 2,000 train carloads of food were collected.
While this grassroots effort was ongoing, the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe was under way. This was American peacemaking at its finest. It came from all Americans, whether they were leaders in Washington D.C. or farmers in the Midwest. With nations in such distress after the war, Americans responded with generosity and friendship.
This is a sharp contrast to plans today by the Congress to reduce international food aid when there are countries that are suffering deeply from hunger, malnutrition, and poverty.
What hope do the world’s nearly one billion hungry people have without food and nutrition? What hope do we have for peace if another generation is stunted in growth and mind because of lack of food?
It was fitting that one of the food trains for peace back in 1948 was named after Lincoln. It was he who used the phrase, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.” Lincoln asked Americans “to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
There is no more important step toward this goal than feeding the hungry.