The Invisible Guest-Part II

Children waiting for their Christmas dinner in one of the ARA kitchens. Reveal ca. 1920
Children waiting for their Christmas dinner in one of the ARA kitchens. Reveal ca. 1920

Last year at about this time Thomas Schwartz wrote a blog here about Hoover’s ‘Invisible Guest’ dinners, innovative efforts to raise private funds to pay for the feeding of Europeans after World War I.  Congress had originally appropriated $100 million to this humanitarian effort, but was reluctant to expend funds beyond this commitment.  Hoover recognized this political reality and whole-heartedly supported private fund-raising to reach the $30 million goal by February 1921.

Hoover spent most of November and December 1920 giving speeches along the east coast to raise awareness of the ongoing need.  He argued that the changing world situation demanded Americans pay for the unattainable necessities that could not be found in local European markets.  He explained that this was not ‘broadcasting aid’ and that each American dollar was matched two-for-one with local resources.  Hoover further argued this would not be permanent charity, but would last only until the next harvest.

Hoover expressed himself clearly in his 1920 Christmas Message to the American People: ‘There are bearing of this problem that go beyond human pity.  There is bearing upon our national honor.  These children today sit under an American flag.  These people have adopted our form of government, our American ideals….  We hear a great deal about peace. Peace is not a product of documents.  Peace is a product of goodwill among men.  It is my belief that the American flag implanted in the hearts of these children is a far greater support to the United States than battleships.  And here we are asking only the cost of one battleship.’

Hoover sharpened his message when he addressed the diners at the first ‘Invisible Guest’ banquet on December 21, 1920: ‘There are more than seven million automobiles in the United States.  So long as any person in this nation can entertain an automobile, he can entertain an invisible guest.  Americans spend more than one billion dollars on automobiles, on ice cream, tobacco, gum and cosmetics.  Surely we can reduce this spending to feed a child.’  With these words resounding in the ears of his audience, Hoover was quickly able to reach its goal of $30 million by March 1, 1921.

By that time, the goal line had moved.  As the Summary of European Relief for Children via Invisible Guest reported they cut off fund-raising at $29 million because of falling food prices and transportation costs.  With these funds, children were fed in Albania, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Russia. Hoover summed up: ‘The feeding of children is one of our most cheerful operations.  Laughter and joy in children has a quantitative relation to the number of calories we feed them.’

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