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75 years later, spirit of CARE Packages also soothes those in U.S.

“It was very helpful because we were very hungry at that time,” Molt said. “It was very difficult to find enough food, and so the CARE parcels, with all these beautiful things like chocolate and so on, for us young people, it was a really marvelous thing.”

Seeing a country that was Germany’s enemy in the war later aid in their survival was a decisive moment in his young life, said Molt, who spent time studying in California and later served on the board of CARE Germany. The formative experience has stayed with him, even through strained international relations.

“I have experienced American society in a way which was very helpful,” Molt said. “I think CARE is also an example of international understanding and solidarity.”

CARE, which has been based in Atlanta since 1992, has been celebrating the momentous anniversary of the package with celebrity-studded virtual events that are equal parts reminiscent and future-facing. In a June 9 cook-off, chef Spike Mendelsohn used ingredients from the original package to make a canned ham paella with red eye aioli.

The main event, An Evening With CARE, was hosted May 11 by Whoopi Goldberg. It included performances from artists such as Jewel and Michelle Williams, and featured messages from former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama and current President Joe Biden.

Michelle Nunn, the nonprofit’s president and CEO since 2015, said the event was a fitting tribute to a 75-year legacy of volunteers, staff and participants standing together for social justice.

“The opportunity to bring together five living presidents in combination with Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Merkel, and Elton John, and an amazing choir of nurses who’ve served the communities around this country throughout the COVID pandemic, and for them to celebrate in a really powerful and I think joyful and resilient way, all of that put together was a kind of extraordinary package,” Nunn said.

Alongside major public figures, the event also broadcast the story of Tyehesha Alexander, a Griffin-Spalding County School teacher who was temporarily laid off due to the pandemic last spring. During that time, Alexander was hired to deliver CARE Packages through a partnership with Community Outreach in Action, a Jonesboro food pantry where she has long volunteered. The packages generally contain nonperishable items, bread, desserts, and different types of meat, such as chicken, pork and beef, Alexander said.

“I enjoy working with CARE because it gives me the opportunity to help those in the community. You never realize how many people are actually in need,” Alexander said in an interview. “There are a lot of people that don’t have cars that are not able to drive themselves to the grocery store. You have a lot of elderly people that are on fixed incomes.”

In response to COVID-19, CARE launched the largest U.S.-focused effort in its history. The need and urgency were so great, Nunn said in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that they quickly put together a strategy for responding.

“We have seen that poverty has been cut in half globally while it has stayed really persistently sort of stagnated at the level of the United States,” Nunn said. The high poverty rate combined with the COVID crisis, which resulted in job losses and food insecurity for many Americans, brought a focus of the organization’s work stateside.

Caption

CARE Packages contain a range of foods for vulnerable families impacted by COVID-19. Atlanta-based CARE relaunched its CARE Package Program during the pandemic, the first time it is operating in the U.S. since the program was created in 1945.

That plan included reincarnating the idea of the CARE Package — which had evolved over the years from a physical box of food into more of a focus on providing resources through tools and training — and delivering them to residents in Atlanta; Louisville, Kentucky; Akron, Ohio; Houston; Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. The package contents vary, but may include items such as apples, peanut butter, cereal or a microwaveable meal.

“It was simply the idea that there were a lot of people that needed meals and were hungry, that couldn’t leave their house, that were isolated and there were also other people that were out of work,” Nunn said. “And so what if we partnered with gig economy platforms like Lyft and TaskRabbit, helped employ people to deliver meals to those who were in need?”

During the May 11 virtual event, Biden announced that 6 million packages had been delivered in this country in about a year. CARE plans to extend programming in current markets and expand to other priority cities like Chicago, Detroit, Miami and Philadelphia and Newark, New Jersey, in the next two years.

Bringing the package home “very much embodies the best of the CARE story, which is so much around reciprocity, around passing it on, and then how that flows back,” said Nunn, who was a 2014 Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Georgia.

As the agency grows its U.S. footprint and impact, Atlanta will be a signature city for programming initiatives. In late 2019, CARE launched the Community Savings & Loan Associations pilot in Atlanta to help people in need save more and reduce their dependence on payday loans. To scale the program, CARE recently signed an agreement with AmeriCorps/VISTA to place VISTA volunteers with local partners in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston and Louisville to work with savings groups.

Due to the urgency of the COVID crisis, it’s hard for Nunn to imagine what CARE’s role will be over the next 75 years. Vanquishing the threat is top of mind; in recent months, she’s expressed concerns about how the last-mile delivery of vaccines is failing and the importance of equitable vaccine delivery around the world in op-eds in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Hill.

"We direly needed PPE & sterilisers as the market ran out. Thanks to Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) & CARE, the nursery & laboratories are now working safely. We thank CARE for this timely intervention, as personal protection and equipment, hygiene materials and sterilizers were not available neither in the hospital nor in the local market for purchasing, and the hospital was in dire need of these materials, especially in the nursery, laboratories and nursing department. This intervention contributed to limiting the spread of Covid-19 and the common epidemics and preserving the cleanliness of the hospital," Dr Hadi Al-Hamzi, General Director of Amran Maternity and Child Hospital in Yemen.
Caption

“We direly needed PPE & sterilisers as the market ran out. Thanks to Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) & CARE, the nursery & laboratories are now working safely. We thank CARE for this timely intervention, as personal protection and equipment, hygiene materials and sterilizers were not available neither in the hospital nor in the local market for purchasing, and the hospital was in dire need of these materials, especially in the nursery, laboratories and nursing department. This intervention contributed to limiting the spread of Covid-19 and the common epidemics and preserving the cleanliness of the hospital,” Dr Hadi Al-Hamzi, General Director of Amran Maternity and Child Hospital in Yemen.

Credit: Ammar Al-Hajj/CARE

Credit: Ammar Al-Hajj/CARE

“I’m incredibly passionate and dedicated to our mission to defeat poverty and to save lives and to achieve social justice focusing on gender justice and gender equality,” Nunn said. “And I’m so privileged to have the opportunity to work in solidarity with thousands of team members from around the world, and to do it from my hometown, and my beloved community of Atlanta.”

How CARE Packages have evolved

The original CARE Packages in 1946 included items such as instant coffee, black tea, canned meat, pitted prunes, raisins, apple baby food and chocolate. In recent decades, the packages evolved from a physical box of food into more of a focus on providing resources through tools and training. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the packages were reincarnated in 2020 and delivered for the first time in the United States. Those packages may contain apples, peanut butter, cereal, a microwaveable meal, nonperishable items, bread, desserts, and different types of meat, such as chicken, pork and beef.