Cleveland’s Inspiring Christmas Ship Gifts To WWI Victims

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Credits: Eugene Zhyvchik/ Unsplash
  • The author Lilian Bell came up with a plan to send gifts to children in war-torn Europe to arrive in time for Christmas.
  • On Saturday, Oct. 3, 1914, The Plain Dealer pictured one of the first Cleveland-area donors to the Christmas Ship and the gift she’d given. 
  • This Christmas, Cleveland and Ohio can answer the cries for help coming from war victims in Ukraine, Yemen, South Sudan, Ethiopia and other suffering countries. 

The Plain Dealer invited its readers to take part in one of the largest Christmas presents ever, an entire ship of gifts for hungry child war victims in Europe.

Christmas ship

World War I was raging in Europe. This was the “War to End All Wars,” unlike anything ever seen before. With such a huge war came massive human suffering, especially among children in Belgium, France, Britain and other impacted nations.

The author Lilian Bell came up with a plan to send gifts to children in war-torn Europe to arrive in time for Christmas. The Christmas Ship, or Santa Claus ship, was started.

Newspapers were the main way to spread word about the ship so people could donate items.

On Saturday, Oct. 3, 1914, The Plain Dealer pictured one of the first Cleveland-area donors to the Christmas Ship and the gift she’d given. 

Young Dorothy Hofrichter of East Cleveland’s doll would soon be on its way to a child in Europe.

Helping the people

Six days later, The Plain Dealer reported that, “Toys and clothing that are to carry the message of America to the fatherless of the warring nations began to stream in at the receiving station in City Hall.” 

These included a donation from little Mamie Conlen of Put-in-Bay, who gave a big box of toys. She included a letter which the child in Europe who received her box would read: 

“Dear little friend: I hope you will have a merry Christmas and hope you will like my Playthings. If there is anything I can do for you let me know. Your little friend, Mamie Conlen.”

Some Cleveland residents were concerned that the Christmas Ship would take attention away from the plight of the poor at home.

But on Oct. 4, 1914, The Plain Dealer reminded readers about the power of community: “It is felt that Cleveland, sixth city, is big enough to help all the world, especially when there is a world of children to be helped.”

International Christmas

Others in the city also reminded Clevelanders of the need to help the poor wherever they may be. The Rev. E.R. Wright, then executive secretary of the Federated Churches of Cleveland, said that, “Children are not limited by geographical lines. 

They are universal.” Cleveland public welfare director Dr. Harris Cooley said the Christmas Ship “is just an enlargement of our community Christmas. This year we must make it an international Christmas.”

Donations poured in so much throughout October 1914 that numerous shipments had to be made from Cleveland to Brooklyn, New York, so they could be loaded in time for the Christmas Ship’s voyage to Europe. 

The Plain Dealer reported that one of the biggest final shipments of gifts came from the First Unitarian Church on Euclid Avenue at East 82nd Street.

City of goodwill

The gifts were not just toys. Cleveland residents were quick to point out that child war victims needed much more than toys. Food, clothing and other desperately needed basics became the main gifts being donated for the Christmas Ship. The Plain Dealer also urged readers to give food that could last the journey across the ocean.

In Lilian Bell’s 1915 book, “The Story of the Christmas Ship,” she wrote that “Cleveland, that has been called the ‘City of GoodWill,’ and the ‘sixth in population and the first in humanity,’ gave abundantly to the cargo of the Christmas Ship.”

WWI war victims

Cleveland can feel proud of its contribution to help those suffering during World War I. 

This Christmas, Cleveland and Ohio can answer the cries for help coming from war victims in Ukraine, Yemen, South Sudan, Ethiopia and other suffering countries. 

You can donate to organizations like the World Food Program, Catholic Relief Services, UNICEF, CARE, Save the Children, Mary’s Meals, Edesia and many others.

World hunger worsening

The crisis is worsening for children worldwide. The World Food Program has warned that, “As many as 60 million children under 5 could be acutely malnourished by the end of 2022, putting them at higher risk of death, illness and long-term development impairments.”

This Christmas needs to be an international Christmas as it was during World War I. Together, we can do something good for child war victims, giving them new life and hope.

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Source: Cleveland

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