Earlier this month Karen Simon spoke to her Maryland synagogue in honor of Yom Kippur.
“I’m hungry right now, by choice,” she said after many hours of fasting. “There are millions of people around the world who are hungry right now. They have no choice.”
The holy day, she said, offered the perfect opportunity to not only remember the world’s hungry — but to take action.
Consider carrying on an American tradition that dates back more than 50 years, Karen told her congregation. Consider feeding a “Silent Guest.”
The Silent Guest Tradition
In the aftermath of World War II, when drought and food shortages wreaked havoc across Europe, American activist Iris Gabriel began the “Silent Guest” movement in Massachusetts after convincing the state’s governor to announce and endorse the idea.
During the Thanksgiving of 1947, families in the U.S. set aside a plate at their dinner tables to symbolize the world’s hungry, then mailed donations equal to the cost of feeding that “silent guest” so charities could send care packages to Europe. The campaign was so successful it continued through Christmas. These meals would offer “spiritual bread, as well as physical bread, for discouraged, hungry people,” Gabriel said.
Exactly 70 years later, Karen Simon decided to resurrect the “Silent Guest” campaign after watching a recent episode of “60 Minutes” on looming famine in the world’s youngest country, South Sudan.
As a member of KindWorks, a community-based organization based in Bethesda, Maryland, Karen already had a network of passionate, generous people she knew could help her.
Now she needs your help.
Manna from Heaven
Earlier this year, CBS Correspondent Scott Pelley traveled to South Sudan and found a nation ravaged by war and famine-like conditions amid little to no infrastructure. He walked viewers through health clinics filled with malnourished children, camps of tens of thousands of displaced people and fields cleared for lifesaving airdrops of food assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP). He called the deliveries “manna from heaven, by parachute.”
“We will take every measure we can to keep our staff safe,” WFP’s Shaun Hughes told Pelley, elaborating on security concerns and the loss of colleagues in the field. “But our commitment is very much with the people of South Sudan.”
That’s when Karen — watching the “gut-wrenching coverage” from home — sprang to action.
“How can they do that, and I’m sitting here in my living room watching this on television, and I’m letting that go on in the world and not taking part?” she recalled.
Finding a way to help feed 5 million people seemed daunting. But she reminded herself: “Each number represents a person — a brother, sister, mother, father, son or daughter. These were not just numbers, not just statistics. I realized each of us may feel powerless… Yet, together we can and do make change.”
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Karen and the KindWorks community came together to create their Silent Guest fundraising campaign in the hopes of redefining the concept of “community” and broadening it beyond one’s neighbors.
“I am not going to be able to be as happy and comfortable in my life knowing that that’s going on in South Sudan or at the jail in Clarksburg or at the shelter in Rockville,” explains KindWorks Executive Director Debra Lang. “I have to do something in order to be my own person.”