WWII survivor living in Florida helps Syrian refugee

- Renata Senter recalls hiding under stairways and the sound of warplane propellers and explosions when she became a refugee at age 5 in WWII Germany while fleeing Russian enemies.

She recalls the post-war rationing of bread, and how her school had no pencils or paper.

She also vividly remembers something else: a CARE package sent by Americans to war-torn Europe. Senter grew up hating the United States, one of Germany's wartime enemies, but she had a change of heart when, at age 7, she received the maroon box in school one day.

"The very first thing I saw was this beautiful, white, genuine white paper," she said. "It was beautiful. Right next to it was a pencil."

Now, about seven decades later, she lives in Florida and sends CARE packages aimed at bringing a slice of hope to Syrian refugee children.

Senter was one of the original CARE package recipients and said the little box filled with toothpaste, a doll and a chocolate bar made her want to visit the U.S. someday. In 1960, she moved to the U.S. and has lived here ever since. Recently, the 76-year-old joined other CARE package recipients in Washington, D.C., to mark the organization's 70th anniversary. The Atlanta-based nonprofit began with parcels to Europe, and they've spread to 95 countries, including Syria.

Earlier this year, she sent a CARE package and a letter to Duha, a Syrian refugee living with her family in Jordan.

"I would like to get to know you and hope I will be able to help you in a small way," Senter wrote to Duha.

Senter becomes emotional thinking of what Duha has experienced.

"I can see the bombs; I can hear the bombs. I can see the devastation. I relate to her 200 percent. I was there. I lived through it. I know what she has gone through."

CARE, which stands for Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, was founded in 1945, the product of 22 American charities. Its main focus is eradicating poverty.

Senter, a tourism professional who lives in suburban Tampa, said she stumbled upon CARE again 10 years ago when she was in Atlanta. She was visiting the city to scope out locations to bring a German tour group and was waiting for a train. When the train didn't come, she asked another woman on the platform about the schedule; the two ended up talking, and as it turned out, the woman worked for CARE.

"Do you want to hear my story?" Senter asked. She still tears up thinking about how serendipitous the meeting was.

Once she told the woman her story, she visited the nonprofit's headquarters with her that day.

It's unclear how many of the original CARE package recipients are still alive, but the organization is documenting the stories of those who are — and who are helping displaced Syrian families.

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Marina Hutchinson contributed to this report from Atlanta.

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Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

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