Sometime in 1981, Pope John Paul II asked Bob Macauley if he could offer some help to the poor people of Poland, who were in desperate need of medical supplies. Leveraging his business acumen and contacts, he was quickly able to raise $1.5 million in aid for Poland, ultimately sending a total of 38 airlifts. He realized that what he could do for Poland, he could also do for the needy worldwide – and so AmeriCares was born.
“If I were a Polish father”, Bob wondered, “suffering under political repression and martial law, with no money and little food, living in a country where everything is rationed – what little token of love could I give my child?” He saw a box of chocolates someone had sent him and had an inspiration. There was no chocolate in Poland.
The next morning Bob called the President of Hershey’s Chocolate and told his story. Bob told him what he was trying to do and asked him if he could help about a little. The man from Hershey said, “I will give you a million kisses”.
From there he went on to the Mars candy company. At first Mars did not respond well, but then Bob mentioned Hersheys had already committed their participation in a big way.
“How much?” Mars asked.
Bob said, “A million”, without saying a million what.
“We will match that,” Mars said.
Bob followed up with Nestle and Cadbury. Within three weeks of his inspiration, 1,65,000 pounds of chocolate were on the way to Poland. Each container carried the label “From the children of America to the children of Poland, with love”. The shipments continued every Christmas for three more years.
Two years later Bob receives a call from the White House saying President Reagan wants to give him the President’s Volunteer Action Award.
Bob says he will not accept unless the award is given to AmeriCares.
No one has ever had the temerity to dictate to the President how an award should be given.
“I have an obsession with ego”, Bob explains. “I have seen it ruin so many things. No one takes credit around here. Everything is team effort. If you’ve got the deed, you don’t need the credit”. If you’ve got the actions, you don’t need the ego. It’s the people who don’t have the action who want the credit. I don’t want my name on anything – no building, no roads, nothing.”
As usual, Bob prevailed. In presenting the award to AmeriCares, President Reagan took special delight in telling the story of chocolate for Poland. Next time you go to Poland, he noted wryly, “you may want to take a dentist along”.
Since its founding in 1982, AmeriCares has grown to the largest private health care charity in the world. To date, AmeriCares has distributed over $10 billion of aid to 147 countries (including the US), with a specialty in disaster relief.