Guest columnist William Lambers: Boston Marathon winner inspires action against hunger




Published: 04-14-2024 8:10 PM


In 1946, running legend Johnny Kelley, upon finishing second to Stylianos Kyriakides in the Boston Marathon, remarked “How can you beat a guy like that? He wasn’t running for himself. He was doing it for his country.”

Stylianos Kyriakides was from Greece, which was suffering from famine after years of war. Greece was invaded by Germany during World War II and went through civil conflict in the aftermath. The fighting led to severe food shortages, as war so often does.

Kyriakides knew that winning the 1946 Boston Marathon could bring lots of attention and help for the starving people in his homeland. That determination fueled his victory in the Boston Marathon.

Kyriakides’ winning the 1946 Boston Marathon, after having survived the war years, was a miracle. The victory gave him incredible fame, which he used to raise donations for Greece during a victory tour of the U.S. after the race.

Like 1946, today’s Boston Marathon comes at a time when food shortages threaten war-torn lands. Sudan, Ethiopia, Gaza, Haiti, Yemen, Burkina Faso, D.R. Congo and Yemen are among nations where starvation is occurring. These are huge emergencies that require lots of funding to reach the millions of people who need lifesaving aid. But the funding from the international community is not enough to keep pace with the worsening hunger.

So as famine looms in these areas, there is a lack of attention to the hunger. One of the tragic results is Congress reducing global food aid budgets at a time when needs are increasing. Congress also has failed to pass the Ukraine aid package, which contained $9 billion in global humanitarian assistance that could save millions of starving people.

The charity CARE recently said, “It is astonishing that, at this moment of global suffering, Congress has cut back on key accounts that alleviate poverty, protect us from pandemics, and support people in crisis.”

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What the world’s hungry need right now is what Greece had in 1946 — an ambassador against hunger like Stylianos Kyriakides. You can fill that role by being outspoken against the injustice of hunger and lack of funding for global food aid. You can be an ambassador against hunger. You can tell your representative in Congress to increase global food aid. You can tell them to approve the Ukraine aid bill, with its lifesaving humanitarian assistance.

In 1946, there was severe hunger in Greece, and famine also threatened much of Europe. It was the collective effort of many people that saved lives from starvation that year. Stylianos Kyriakides inspires us because he was running for something greater than himself, to save his country from starvation.

He continues to be an ambassador against hunger. Kyriakides is a powerful example for each of us to carry on his legacy as a champion for the poor and hungry. For no person should be starving to death in our world.

William Lambers is an author who partnered with the U.N. World Food Program on the book “Ending World Hunger.” His writings have been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek, History News Network, Cleveland Plain Dealer and many other news outlets.