Verdugo Views: A bottle label leads to research

February 12, 2014|By Katherine Yamada
  • This bottle, still filled with rice, was part of an appeal to raise funds for children in a Near East [Armenian] Relief Orphanage sometime between 1915 and 1930.
This bottle, still filled with rice, was part of an appeal… (Courtesy of Katherine…)

While browsing in an antique shop in Oregon last summer, a tiny, glass bottle filled with grains of rice caught my eye. I picked it up and read the label. “The daily ration for 750 children in 1 Near East [Armenian] Relief Orphanage is 40 pounds of rice, less than 7/8 ounce per child. For lack of this small amount, they are turning children away by the thousands. Will you help?’’

The label included the names of Samuel C. Lancaster as state chairman and J.J. Handsaker as director and included an address of 606 Stock Exchange Bldg., Portland, Ore. There was no date or any other information.

Intrigued, I purchased the bottle, brought it home and put it on a shelf; promising myself that I would research this artifact one day. When I discovered that the 2014 “One Book, One Glendale” program is about the Armenian Genocide, I thought of that bottle. I took it off the shelf, sat down at my computer and began searching for “Near East Relief.”


After a few Google entries, here’s what I learned:

Near East Relief has been around for nearly a century, according to the Near East Foundation website. It was founded in 1915 as “The American Committee for Syrian and Armenian Relief” to respond to a massive humanitarian crisis affecting millions of Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and members of other minority groups.

“Over a million and a half died as a result of deportation, forced marches, starvation and execution,” according to the website.

During the crisis, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, assembled a group of friends and colleagues who — with the help of then-President Woodrow Wilson — began soliciting donations from the American public.

The appeals were very successful, according to the website. The monies raised helped save the lives of at least a million people.

By 1919, the operation had grown throughout the Middle East and West Asia and the name was changed to “Near East Relief.”

On a website for the Armenian National Institute, I found an article posted by Rouben Paul Adalian, explaining that through public rallies, church collections and assistance from charitable organizations and foundations, the Near East Relief committee raised millions in its campaign to save “the starving Armenians.”

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