The United States entered World War I in April 1917 and almost immediately instituted a military draft—with the threat of prison for those who refused to fight. Young pacifists urgently needed ways to serve their country nonviolently, which led to the creation of the American Friends Service Committee that April.

Early Service Committee volunteers drove ambulances in combat zones and built homes, roads, and villages in France. They also helped civilians in France, Belgium, Serbia, Austria, and Poland.

In the postwar era (1920-24), AFSC was willing to do what others would not—to house, feed, and train people scorned as “enemies.” We undertook child-feeding projects in Vienna, Austria, Germany and Poland, with funding arranged by Herbert Hoover, who then headed the U.S. Food Administration.

In the same period, Russia suffered an unprecedented famine due to the combined impact of WWI, revolution, a civil war, and two seasons of drought. A team from AFSC joined British Friends in Buzuluk, Russia in 1917, where they provided relief to tens of thousands of refugees. Beyond food, they delivered farm equipment, horses, and modern agricultural training.

By the end of WW I, a temporary Quaker response had become an enduring and highly regarded relief organization.

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  • A photo of an ambulance and nurse.
    Driving ambulances in war zones, AFSC conscientious objectors chose a life-preserving role in the midst of death and destruction.
  • Row of children lying on wood cots.
    During the wartime blockade of Germany, even food was barred from entry. At war’s end, AFSC found rampant illness and starvation. Here, children convalesce from tuberculosis.
  • Children eating at table.
    The first child feeding in Berlin took place on Feb. 26, 1920. "Quakering" or "being Quakered" became a new phrase used throughout Germany to mean eating food from Quakers.
  • Enormous crowd of children holding bowls.
    It’s estimated that 1 million German children were fed daily by AFSC. AFSC was commissioned by then-director of the American Relief Administration Herbert Hoover, who was also a Quaker.
  • Cooks in very large kitchen.
    Volunteers produced meals in feeding kitchens across Germany. This kitchen in Leipzig was staffed by over 50 Friends.
  • Horse-drawn wagon with men, women, children.
    During the war, many thousands of Russians fled the German and Russian armies, seeking food, shelter, and safety.
  • Crowd of children, women, and men in uniform.
    In June 1917, AFSC arranged for a small team to join the English Friends in Buzuluk, Russia, where they provided famine relief and other services for tens of thousands of refugees.
  • Womans face
    Nancy Babb, one of six exceptional women sent to Buzuluk by AFSC, built a unique food-for-work program that allowed peasants to exchange work for desperately needed commodities, food, and medicine while preserving their dignity.
  • Room with doctors, nurses and patients.
    Medical teams traveled on “Health Trains” to bring care to isolated areas. Here, the weakest children are screened out and sent for immediate feeding.
  • Men wait in line in front of horses and building.
    During 10 years in Russia, the AFSC fed and provided medical care to children and mothers, ran orphanages and schools, and taught modern farming methods. Here, horses are given out by lottery in 1922.
  • Many sacks of flour with sign: "Pasadena flour for starving Russians."
    The AFSC Board had to convince the Soviet leaders that Friends were not part of a plot to undermine the revolution, while persuading the U.S. public to provide food and funds for Russian relief.