This organization that I have led since 2015 was conceived following the devastation of World War II to bring food relief to Europe.
After negotiation with multiple government agencies, CARE took possession of 2.8 million military food rations in November 1945. Within six months, the first packages began arriving in Europe. These rations became the world’s first CARE Packages®, heralding the birth of an American symbol of generosity, still fondly remembered by generations of Europeans today. In the years and decades that followed, CARE expanded its reach and programs globally, becoming one of the leading humanitarian and development organizations in the world.
Initially based in New York City, the decision to move such an iconic institution to Atlanta was not arbitrary. It was the result of an intentional effort by a constellation of Atlantans – Mayor Maynard Jackson, Pete McTier and Russ Hardin at the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, and others – to bring this important organization to Atlanta.
Their goal was to add a renowned international nonprofit organization to the ranks of already prominent institutions like the American Cancer Society, The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Habitat for Humanity and many others. In their efforts, this group underlined two key attributes about our city to the then-leadership of CARE.
First, ours was a city that embodied a true spirit of justice, of community and generosity. That Atlanta was a city that cared – cared about the world, cared about peace, cared about human rights. That Atlanta’s heritage as the home of Nobel Peace Prize winners Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmy Carter and the Civil Rights movement would also define its future.
The second was that CARE could and would grow with Atlanta – a city in resurgence – and that the city would become a driver and amplifier of CARE’s global impact and provide a community in which the organization, with all its history and diversity, could thrive.
Their foresight was prescient. Thirty years later, as we mark the anniversary of CARE’s move, we have grown alongside the city, expanding our operations from 53 countries to 111 countries since 1993.
Our impact has also grown significantly as we have benefited from the generosity of major Atlanta donors – including The Kendeda Fund, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and the Woodruff Foundation – along with corporate partners like The Coca-Cola Co., UPS and Delta and countless local supporters large and small.
As a result, since coming to Atlanta, the number of people around the world the organization reaches every year has grown from 30 million in 1993 to 174 million last year.
For the past 30 years, the history of the relationship between CARE and Atlanta has been one of impactful solidarity in the pursuit of global impact. As an Atlantan and a Georgian leading CARE, I believe that Atlanta’s embrace of CARE has never been more important.
Mayor Andre Dickens recently presented CARE the Phoenix Award and pointed to the fact that we now live in an era of perpetual crisis – from humanitarian disasters, to conflict, to climate change. He noted that “the world clearly needs CARE more than ever.”
That is true. An estimated 363 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance this year, an increase of 37 million since the end of 2022. More than 730 million people around the world still go to bed hungry every night. And it is the most-vulnerable people around the world – the focus of CARE’s work – who bear the brunt of these crises.
As Atlanta supports CARE’s growing impact in the world, CARE is also finding new ways of giving back to the city. In the wake of COVID, we brought back the CARE Package to help feed Atlanta families struggling with the pandemic. Working with organizations like Atlanta Public Schools, CHRIS 180, the Latino Community Fund (Georgia), Purpose Built Schools Atlanta and YMCA of Metro Atlanta, we delivered approximately 4 million meals to communities across the city.
This is a time that calls for creativity and boldness to address the daunting challenges all around us. As we confront pandemics and climate change and conflicts around the world, we are reminded of our interdependence. I believe that Atlanta has a unique ecosystem and legacy that positions our city to deliver hope to the world.
Atlanta’s embrace of CARE is one important way of living out this future.
On behalf of everyone at CARE, thank you Atlanta for caring.
Michelle Nunn is president and CEO of CARE USA. This op/ed was originally posted in The Atlanta Journal Constitution on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023.