Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of Atlanta-based CARE USA, discusses development of a new cyber CARE package.

At the end of World War II, with much of Europe destroyed, 22 U.S. organizations formed a group called CARE to rush food to millions of people in danger of starvation.

The first CARE packages, surplus U.S. Army meals, arrived at Le Havre, France, on May 11, 1946. CARE, now headquartered in Atlanta, began phasing out the program in 1966 as its mission became broader and more complex. But the CARE package may be coming back in a new cyber form, Helene Gayle, CARE’s president and CEO, told GlobalAtlanta.

“One of the things we recognize is that the CARE package is an important kind of almost iconic symbol,” said Dr. Gayle. “The CARE package wasn’t just the provision of food to people who had been devastated by World War II. It was also a sign of generosity that connected people in this country very directly to people in other parts of the world who were suffering.”

When CARE was founded in 1945, its name was an acronym for  “Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe.” Donors paid $10 for each package with guaranteed arrival in four months. CARE expanded the program to Asia and other parts of the developing world, eventually sending out 100 million packages.

The term “care package” became a permanent part of the U.S. vocabulary. It is still used, for example, by parents who send food to their children in college.

CARE is still developing the new program. Rather than a physical package that arrives at a home or village, it might be a virtual gift of assistance, selected by a donor with a few mouse clicks on the computer and delivered in various ways.

“Over the next few months, we could have some kind of pilot that allows people to virtually give CARE packages,” said Dr. Gayle. “We’re trying to see, given our technology today, how we can have something that attempts to have that same sense of global interconnectedness. Technology and the Web enable us to do that in ways we haven’t been able to do before.”

She did not disclose other details. “It’s still in the works,” said Dr. Gayle.

CARE, which has a staff of more than 12,000, supports programs in 72 countries that provide disaster relief and fight the underlying causes of poverty. It works in agriculture, economic development, health care and other fields.

Like most non-profit organizations, CARE has been hurt financially by the global economic downturn.

While support from corporations, foundations and the U.S. government is up, donations from individuals are down, Dr. Gayle said. “Not surprisingly, individuals are feeling the pinch,” she said. “Our donor base remains strong. We didn’t have fewer donors, by and large. We had the donors giving less than they had in the past.”

Georgia State University’s Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility, part of the Robinson College of Business, on Dec. 8 gave Dr. Gayle its Ethics Advocate Award in recognition of her “unflagging advocacy on behalf of women, minorities and the marginalized.”

Previous winners include Neville Isdell, former Coca-Cola Co. chairman and CEO, and Mindspring Enterprises founder Charles Brewer.

In video congratulations to Dr. Gayle, Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2, said, “There’s a dangerous woman on the loose, dangerously effective, who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Some people cause a ripple. She causes a wave. We need many more like her. She is a soldier with a big heart in the fight against poverty.”

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