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CARE packages helped Europeans during WWII. Today, they are helping Americans

CARE packages, a box of army surplus rations Americans could buy and ship to the millions of needy and displaced Europeans during the Second World War, are, for the first time in CARE’s history, being used to help Americans, many of whom are food insecure during the pandemic. Mike Cerre reports on the humanitarian effort as part of our ongoing ‘Chasing The Dream’ series.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the shortcomings of America's public health and anti-poverty programs, creating a new need for humanitarian relief as a result. A reflection of that new world order is the CARE organization which was created after World War II to help feed needy Europeans.

    Now, for the first time in its 75-year history, it is providing that assistance to needy Americans.

    Special Correspondent Mike Cerre reports from San Francisco. This story is part of our ongoing series: Chasing The Dream.

  • Mike Cerre:

    This San Francisco food truck is the latest interpretation of a holiday care package.

  • Christian Huang:

    A "care package" for me was always something your parents sent you in college.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Since the start of COVID crisis, Christian Huang's non-profit food truck called "Mobilized Love" has been serving free, hot meals to some of San Francisco's most food-insecure neighborhoods, like Rita Dunn's.

  • Rita Dunn:

    Usually we see people all over the globe in Africa starving. Now we're starving right here in America.

  • President Truman:

    John, it's a pleasure to hand you this check for $1,500 for this food package for the starving in Europe.

  • Mike Cerre:

    The original CARE package was a box of army surplus rations Americans could buy in 1945 and have shipped overseas to the millions of needy and displaced Europeans after World War II.

    Over the past 75 years, variations on the CARE package theme have become part of our vernacular and evolved into a variety of humanitarian assistance programs, CARE has been providing to over a hundred countries.

    For the first time in CARE's 75 year history, Americans are now on the receiving end.

  • Ryan Shepard:

    I think in many ways it has been humbling for us here in the U.S. I think, unfortunately, sometimes there is a perspective that these problems exist everywhere else.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Ryan Shepard heads up CARE's newly created U.S. initiatives and recent pivot from just providing assistance globally to acting local as well.

  • Ryan Shepard:

    The reality is that we have our own challenges. And I think the pandemic has revealed how many of those challenges are shared with other places that we're active.

  • Mike Cerre:

    COVID did not cause food insecurity in this country, but it has dramatically increased the numbers of people requiring food assistance. It's estimated that 10 percent of Americans were food insecure before the pandemic. Now Northwestern University researchers are saying that number is likely to double.

  • Rita Dunn:

    Normally, the breakfast and lunch that the kids would be getting in schools are not getting it now. So yeah, it's important for these groups to come out and help.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Rita Dunn is one of hundreds of community organizers around the country CARE is matching-up with local non-profits like Christian Huang's food truck to get food to the neighborhoods, made all the more food insecure by the COVID crisis.

  • Christian Huang:

    What made it really special for us was that it made our work essential and it made us safe and operable during a time where a lot of non-profits had to shut down because they couldn't bring people inside to the brick and mortar space. We were well-positioned to be safe and outdoors and continue our services.

  • Mike Cerre:

    CARE USA is leveraging its domestic fundraising and foreign aid experience to help local charities in San Francisco and several other metropolitan areas, distribute food, as well as personal hygiene supplies, and assistance to essential workers.

  • Ryan Shepard:

    The secret sauce of all of this comes down to the local partnerships. None of this would be possible without the organizations that have been on the frontlines that understand the communities and have been doing this work for many years in many instances.

  • Damien Posey:

    My people, my people, my beautiful people! Free lunches for the real people, for the community.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Damien Posey, a local legend here in San Francisco's Bayview district is helping care and Christian's food truck connect with the city's neediest neighborhoods. His "US 4 US" network of teenage volunteers extends the food truck's reach by hand-delivering hot meals to people cut off by COVID from other types of public assistance and food sources and living in the city's food deserts, where fresh food has always been scarce and relatively distant.

  • Christian Huang:

    There are four building complexes, over a thousand residents, a lot of families, a lot of elderly, a lot of shut-in residents. And then when I try to think of myself as a family in this neighborhood, there's not one restaurant, one grocery store. That's pretty bad.

  • Priti Rane:

    Families, working poor, undocumented residents are by far the most impacted that are impacted compared to the rest of the residents of San Francisco.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Born and raised in India, Priti Rane was well aware of CARE's humanitarian work abroad, but never thought she would be involved with it since she migrated to the U.S.

    Now as the director of the City of San Francisco's Nutrition Services and Food Insecurity Task Force, she's relying on CARE's national agreements with DoorDash and other delivery services to get food to families that don't have access to city services like they had before the COVID shutdowns.

  • Priti Rane:

    That connection to a delivery system like that really helped us get food to people that were most in need.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Like other major food banks around the country, the San Francisco–Marin Food Bank has seen the number of families relying on its services nearly double due to COVID, which has also reduced the numbers of its mostly volunteer distribution network, according to its executive director Paul Ashe.

  • Paul Ashe:

    It takes the food bank to do the larger distributions and other organizations have a great niche to fill in terms of reaching populations that we may not be able to find. We don't have a food shortage problem. We have a problem of organizing our political system and organizing our government and organizing our nonprofit charities. We have new organizations coming to us and saying we can help if you can provide the food and we're doing that. So it really takes a lot of hands.

  • Mike Cerre:

    But that is likely to change next month in the absence of a new economic stimulus package to continue funding USDA food programs that account for nearly half of his food bank's supplies, which this neighborhood pop-up distribution point depends on.

    Is this food truck, this laundry truck, these food deliveries. Is this the new CARE package?

  • Ryan Shephard:

    I believe so. Our opinion is that the CARE package really has evolved to being more about kind of the spirit and the generosity that we might share with one another. The CARE package doesn't have to be in a brown cardboard box anymore.

    It's community members getting together and providing food parcels, providing gift cards for folks who may be on the front lines or who may be facing financial challenge.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Christian Huang wasn't sure about how the first CARE package started, but he's certain that his offerings of Thai chicken curry is better, faster, hotter than the original Army surplus military rations that started the tradition.

  • Christian Huang:

    Hope you enjoy it.

  • Mike Cerre:

    In San Francisco, this is Mike Cerre for PBS NewsHour Weekend.

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