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Making it Personal: The Genesis of the CARE Organization

On a warm and sunny day on Wednesday, November 28, 1945, a group came together to ratify the articles of incorporation for a new humanitarian agency called Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe, or CARE.

On a warm and sunny day on Wednesday, November 28, 1945, 22 organizational members from the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service (ACVAFS) met in Gramercy Park’s elegant Samuel Tilden Mansion. Temporarily chaired by Clarence E. Pickett, the members met to ratify the articles of incorporation for a new humanitarian agency called Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe, or CARE for short.

In a letter to Hanns Gramm, a member of the Board of Directors at the American Friends Service Committee, sent two days later, Pickett summarized what the group had just achieved.

Yet by this point, the weather had turned chilly, which was perhaps, an omen. Despite the optimism displayed in his November 30 letter to Gramm, Pickett could not have anticipated the challenges that would immediately beset CARE. 

In his letter, Pickett hints at the new organization’s distribution mechanism, which was unique for humanitarian organizations: a person would purchase a coupon and mail it directly to a friend or relative in Europe. The recipient would then take the coupon to a CARE center to redeem a food packet. Pickett remarks that the new Board expressed concern about the ability of the German post office to deliver the vouchers. It is important to note that CARE was exercising one of the primary tenants of humanitarianism: the principle of impartiality. CARE would assist all hungry people, without discrimination. In this case, even if the recipients might be former Nazis.

Despite the beginning of the much-anticipated Christmas season, CARE faced some difficult issues that needed immediate attention. The founders and new board of CARE were not prepared for its rocky start. Pickett had no way of knowing the newly elected executive director and chief operating officer Donald M. Nelson would resign within days of his letter. Additionally, Pickett and the Board believed that 7 million Army rations would be sold to CARE; but, in fact, only a fraction – 2.8 million rations – would be available. 

While the rest of the US celebrated the holiday season, the men of CARE went to work, seeking a new executive director, finding enough rations, and wading through thorny government regulations. 

The final hurdles were met in mid-December and the first ship carrying CARE supplies docked at Le Havre, France, in May of 1946. It was the first of many shipments from CARE that put food in the bellies of Europeans, giving them strength and courage to rebuild their communities and countries.

About the Author

Elizabeth Aldritch

Elizabeth Aldritch is a member of the CARE Global Research Team, which is researching the history of this pivotal non-profit organization in the context of American foreign aid, the Cold War and the Postcolonial world. The CARE Global Research Team is made up of scholars from around the world and is sponsored by the Wilson Center.

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