One day during the two-year, post-World War II captivity of Klaus Pütter, a German POW-soldier in a French hospital, a plain, brown, 22-pound cardboard box arrived—a gift from Care (an acronym for Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe), containing about 40,000 calories from Germany’s recent enemy, the United States.
It held corned beef, bacon, liver loaf, margarine, lard, apricot preserves, honey, raisins, chocolate, sugar, egg powder, milk powder, coffee, flour and soap.
"Even though hunger and desperation were with us, our first reaction was, ‘What’s the snag? What do the Americans want to do to us now?’" Pütter says.
Never getting enough to eat—daily, only a piece of bread, cheese, cabbage soup and tea ("Never enough, believe me," Pütter says)—the German prisoners nevertheless debated three days about what to do with the box.
Finally, the German Army chaplain concluded, "Americans are different. They help people in need, regardless of who and where they are."
Celebrating CARE’s 50th anniversary in 1996, the organization presented the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History with a 1962 cardboard CARE package. It contains boxes of macaroni, cornmeal, instant chocolate-flavored drink mix and nonfat dried milk.
CARE, one of the largest nonsectarian, nongovernment organizations in the world working in international development and relief, started an emergency food relief program in 1946, just after the end of World War II. During the Berlin Airlift beginning in 1948, Americans purchased and sent $10 packages containing food, clothing and medicine to West Berlin in one of the largest person-to-person relief efforts in history.
Berliners looked to the sky for help after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered a shutdown of ground traffic to and from their city of a couple of million residents. From 1946 to 1949, CARE delivered more than 658,000 packages there, including 200,000 during the airlift.
The first packages’ contents came from surplus Army rations, which the United States had stored for the invasion of Japan. When Europeans depleted those rations, CARE began sending packages it designed for civilian families, containing more meats and more fats. Criticism soon followed.
The French groused that the contents did not lend themselves to the French cuisine. The Irish insisted on a substitute for the meat products. The British wanted fruit juices and extra fats instead of flour, which was not in short supply.