Former presidents help in times of disaster

When U.S. presidents leave office, they draw a pension for life. But they also take on volunteer work, rallying Americans to respond after humanitarian disasters such as the hurricanes that recently struck the United States.

The five living former presidents — Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — are leading the One America Appeal to galvanize support for those flooded out of homes by Hurricane Harvey in Houston and along the Gulf Coast and those suffering from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma across Florida.

Now, after Hurricane Maria struck the Caribbean, they are calling on Americans to open their hearts and wallets for the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The five presidents recorded public service ads urging Americans to donate to recovery efforts. Although the presidents delivered their messages from different places, they seamlessly finish each other’s sentences.

“Our country has witnessed catastrophic devastation. Hurricanes and flooding have upended lives and livelihoods,” Obama, who left the Oval Office eight months ago, begins the appeal.

“Across this great country, Americans have answered the call….” says Carter, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his peacemaking and humanitarian efforts since his term ended in 1981.

“…. A special calling that compels us, when others are down, to step up and do whatever it takes,” adds George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor.

It makes no difference that the Bushes are Republicans and that Carter, Clinton and Obama are Democrats.

“America’s at her best when against all odds, we come together and lift each other up,” says Clinton. He and George H.W. Bush, whom Clinton defeated in 1992, formed a self-described “political odd couple” and mounted joint appeals for help in 2005 after a devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the United States.

René Préval, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton shaking hands with Haitians (© AP Images)
Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton (shown with Haitian President René Préval) rolled up their sleeves and raised $54 million for Haiti’s earthquake recovery. (© AP Images)

In 2010, a year removed from the White House, the younger Bush teamed up with Clinton to raise $54 million after the earthquake that killed a quarter-million people or more in Haiti.

Harvey hit close to home for the Bushes. The elder has lived in Houston for decades, although he was at his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, when Harvey struck.

His son, the former governor of Texas, says in a second public service ad, “People are hurtin’ down here. But as one Texan put it, ‘We’ve got more love in Texas than water.’”

His father, who turned 93 in June, adds, “We love you, Texas.”

Jimmy Carter sawing plywood (© AP Images)
Former President Jimmy Carter has become synonymous with Habitat for Humanity’s home-building efforts for the needy. (© AP Images)

Carter, who turns 93 on October 1, was briefly hospitalized in July, after collapsing from dehydration while building homes with Habitat for Humanity in Winnipeg, Canada.

The five recent presidents are not the first to devote part of their retirement to humanitarian causes. Herbert Hoover won acclaim for leading global relief efforts after World War II. Early in his career Hoover helped prevent starvation in Europe during World War I.

A version of this article was published on September 12.