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The WFP Needs Cyber Monday Dollars to Feed Syrian Refugees

Today, the WFP announced that it will have to suspend its food voucher assistance program for Syrian refugees unless it can drum up $64 million, stat. And what do you know: it's Cyber Monday.
Hilary Pollack
Los Angeles, US
Photo courtesy of the UNHCR

The World Food Programme is currently stretched thin. Between its extensive aid to Ebola-stricken areas and continued distribution of food resources to other imperiled areas of Africa and the Middle East, the 100-percent-donation-funded organization has a lot on its figurative (and hungry) plate.

Today, the WFP announced that it will have to suspend its food voucher assistance program for Syrian refugees unless it can drum up $64 million, stat. Many of the donations promised to the struggling program currently remain unfulfilled. Rather than giving out food directly, the organization distributes the vouchers in the form of refillable cards to refugee families, who can then use them to purchase food at local shops and businesses.


READ: How to Feed 20,000 Syrian Refugees

The WFP reports that more than 1.7 million refugees—primarily women, children, and families—in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey currently use the vouchers. With winter nearing, WFP officials are concerned that poor living conditions and inclement weather changes could devastate refugees, many of whom live in muddy tents and lack even basic necessities such as shoes.

Meanwhile, it's Cyber Monday in the US, the online counterpart to consumer-centric Black Friday marked by huge sales and massive spending. Last year's Cyber Monday drummed up $2.2 billion in sales from online shoppers in just one day. This fact has not gone unnoticed by the WFP, which is hoping that spend-happy Americans will consider donating some of their holiday cash so that the voucher program can be revived.

I spoke with Bettina Luescher, the organization's Senior Communications Officer of Global Issues for North America, and touched base about why the WFP needs our help—and whom it's really helping.

MUNCHIES: It was just announced today that these funds for the Syrian voucher program were desperately needed. How long has the lack of funding for this aid been a major issue? Bettina Luescher: Right now the situation is really dire on the ground, and that's why we've been forced to cut the voucher programs that we currently give to some 1.7 million people. But the Syria operation has been hand-to-mouth pretty much from the beginning. We were able to avoid cuts in the past, but now the point has come where we simply do not have enough money to give vouchers to these families, which is heartbreaking. As an aid worker, it feels like the worst thing that you can do.


How do you manage distribution of the vouchers? Basically they're electronic vouchers—they look like little credit cards so that you can quickly charge them up again, and there's always a certain amount of money that's on them. They have been handed out to the communities there. As soon as we get more, through extra donations from other countries, then we will be able to restart it again. But it's crucially important that the donor countries step up to do something. These people have been in war for years, they've had to leave behind their homeland and everything in it, and they are often being sheltered by relatives in neighboring countries. Sometimes, they live in the backyards of other people. It's families, mothers, children, the elderly—people like you and me. But the difference is that their country is going through an awful conflict, and they had no choice but to flee their homeland.

In terms of the money needed—the $64 million—do you think individual donors and their contributions can have a measurable impact, or is it far more important to get support from donor countries? We need the small donations, from people like you and me, but we also need the donations from countries. You know, today it's Cyber Monday in the US and people are out buying things and are online shopping. If you do that, but then on top of that, go to and make a donation for 75 dollars, you can feed a family for a month. I mean, think of that. You can have your normal life here in the US, but you can also do something meaningful halfway around the world, too. People in the neighboring countries of Syria urgently need help, and being here in the US, you can make a big impact. We really do depend on individual donors on top of governments of the world. It's crucially important that we don't leave these people behind. Winter is coming and many of these people are unable to feed their children.

Aside from this program for Syrian refugees, what are the other biggest challenges that the WFP is facing right now? Right now is a time when we're fighting on so many fronts. We're very active, and have reached and distributed food to more than 1.5 million people affected by the Ebola crisis. We help the whole international community with transporting materials and flying in aid workers. And then there are crises that are largely forgotten—problems in southern Sudan are still raging on, the Central African Republic. We're at an unprecedented time where we as a humanitarian organization have to put out so many fires, and we cannot do it without funding. We are 100-percent voluntarily funded, so we always have to ask and beg. But right now we really have to ask and beg, because the people of Syria really need our help. Maybe, on top of their sweaters or jeans that they're buying for Cyber Monday, people who buy something online can go to our website, and after they go shopping, can donate.

Thanks for talking with us.

To donate to the WFP's Syrian refugee food voucher program, visit