It was December 1945, and the United States military government in Austria was hard at work helping to rebuild that country from the devastation of World War II.
A representative from the National Catholic Welfare Conference (War Relief Services) arrived in Vienna that month with some good news for U.S. military officials. Humanitarian aid for Austria would be forthcoming from the charity, which had been founded by American Catholic bishops.
That September, the U.S. and its allies had started providing school lunches in Austria to fight child malnutrition and encourage class attendance. But maintaining supplies for a school lunch program over years of reconstruction was a monumental challenge.
War Relief Services had a special impact in postwar Austria, supplying precious meals to malnourished children. With serious food shortages crises in the country, it was crucial to ensure these meals for children.
In July 1946, War Relief Services helped contribute food to continue the meal program even when the schools were closed for the summer. The organization became more deeply involved in supporting school meals in Austria. A December 1947 report by the U.S. military government stated, “The U.S. Zone School Feeding Program received 40 tons of food donated by the National Catholic Welfare Conference – War Relief Services.” During 1948, sizable donations of food to the Austria program continued, augmenting school feeding efforts being carried out by UNICEF.
School lunches were a vital part of Austria’s and Europe’s recovery after World War II, with War Relief Services among the charities playing a significant role. Following WWII, the organization expanded to many other countries and eventually took on the name Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which it holds today. Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community.
Tragically, WWII was not the last time conflict would strike Europe and put people in need of humanitarian assistance. In 1992 war erupted in Bosnia-Herzegovina after it declared independence from the former Yugoslavia. The fighting killed over 200,000 people and displaced over two million. Catholic Relief Services responded with emergency assistance during the conflict, and, as in post-WWII Austria, supplied school meals during the reconstruction period.
The Dayton Peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995 included “the right to education” for all. Having school meals for all Bosnian children was vital in supporting the rebuilding of the education system. In 2001, Catholic Relief Services started its school meal initiative in Bosnia, using funding from the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program. McGovern-Dole is a U.S. government initiative that funds school lunch programs in needy countries.
In the aftermath of the Bosnian war, poverty and hunger were widespread. School meals provided by Catholic Relief Services benefited many Bosnian children by improving their nutrition, class attendance, and education.
Unfortunately, funding from the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program ran out. Subsequent funding applications by Catholic Relief Services were rejected, since Congress has never allocated enough funding for McGovern-Dole. However, Catholic Relief Services continues to help families and communities in Bosnia, including building new homes.
Especially at a time of soaring global food prices, it is essential to recognize the importance of school meal programs in countries recovering from conflict or other disasters. Catholic Relief Services has demonstrated how important this is over the years, beginning with post-WWII Europe and more recently in Bosnia and other countries where the charity is active.
A simple meal served at school can be a life-changing event for a child. For an entire country, it can be a foundation for peace and development.
For more information about the work of Catholic Relief Services in Bosnia and many other countries please visit the charity’s website.