The Community Chest of Englewood celebrated its eightieth anniversary in 2012, which provided a good occasion to draw attention to its interesting origin and its unique characteristics.
The origin of the Community Chest of Englewood, in the depths of our country’s worst depression, set the tone for what followed. In the early 1930's, Englewood, along with the rest of the nation, was confronted with business bankruptcies, widespread unemployment, foreclosures and homelessness. Local agencies such as the Englewood Hospital, the Salvation Army, the Social Service Federation and a Citizens’ Employment Committee were overwhelmed by the demand for their services and the difficulty of raising adequate funds. The City’s leading citizens, in essence, determined that Englewood would take a stab at looking after its own people.
On June 3, 1932, a committee appointed by Mayor Cornelius, P. Kitchel for this purpose reported to him “what we believe to be a very spontaneous and widespread public demand for a community chest in Englewood.” The committee determined that because of Englewood’s well-known community spirit and the large number of residents with the ability and willingness to serve, a Community Chest money raising campaign would be successful.
By October, 1932, the committee was prepared to proceed with the organization of the new Chest. A leader was needed, a person capable of enlisting the warm response of the community as a whole. The committee’s choice was Elizabeth Cutter Morrow, widow of Englewood’s best known citizen, Senator Dwight Morrow, who had died suddenly in 1931. Mayor Kitchel wrote Mrs. Morrow at the time “The one point which is emphasized as absolutely essential to the successful operation of a Chest, is that it must be operated by the best that the community affords, and particularly that the Chairman must command the respect and confidence of the entire community. In our community there is no one to whom this applies as much as to yourself, and I am asking you to accept this chairmanship, not alone for the ability and command of confidence that this requires, but also because I believe that, at this critical time, there could be no greater service performed for Englewood.”
Mrs. Morrow accepted the chairmanship, thirty-three citizens accepted positions on what became the Board of Managers and the first fund raising campaign was begun in September, 1933. The amount of money raised, $116,000, was exceptional, and, adjusted for inflation, exceeds that raised in any subsequent peacetime year. The member agencies receiving assistance in this first year were Englewood Hospital, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Social Service federation, Citizens Employment Agency and Salvation Army.
The Community Chest has had its ups and downs since then. Contributions declined in the thirties as a slowly improving economy and new federal programs reduced the urgent need. They rose due to special wartime needs in the early forties and flattened out in the early postwar years. The sixties and seventies saw a decline as social and political upheaval in Englewood caused many former donors to move away. Reflecting growing prosperity, a new gradual uptrend in contributions started in the eighties and continues to the present.
In the early 1960's the Chest participated in the founding of the United Fund (now United Way) of Bergen County, which solicits funds from company employees and distributes them countywide. An important shift took place in 1985 in the Chest’s relationship with the United Way. Previously, the United Way made contributions to the Englewood Chest, reflecting the fact that some Chest supported charitable agencies based in Englewood provide services to a wider area. In that year the United Way assumed funding responsibility for those agencies and eliminated its contributions to the Englewood Chest. The effect of this policy shift has been a substantial increase in the number of individual charitable agencies (then 28 and now – in 2013- 2014) to which the Chest makes contributions each year.
In the Chest’s fiscal year which ended September 30, 2003, donations to its annual appeal were $187,453 and disbursements to member agencies were $158,380. Now, 12 years later, the fundraising target for the current year is $250,000. The Chest’s Allocations Committee still meets in April and May of each year to interview representatives of the member agencies and determine the allocation of funds. In 2010 an additional grant was made available to the community, now referred to as the Tanner Impact Grant. That grant is a one year allocation to an agency that has proposed an idea or service that is unique and that serves a new and/or expanded population. This year’s grant was made to The Center for Hope and Safety (formerly Shelter Our Sisters) to support a community education program on interpersonal violence. Special grants are also made during times of crisis or hardship. (e.g. Hurricane Sandy).
The Chest is committed to being responsive to the nonprofit community in the Englewood, Tenafly and Englewood Cliffs area. We have assumed other critical roles in the area including functioning as a convener/facilitator, thought leader, and consultant to agencies we fund as well as to other agencies in the area that may provide services to local citizens.
We continue to seek out board members who are committed to helping us accomplish our mission: strengthening the community through philanthropy, partnerships and leadership.
The Community Chest of Englewood is one of the special things about Englewood. It is indeed almost unique for a community of our size to have such an organization. Celebrating more than eighty years of existence, The Chest epitomizes a fundamental reality of Englewood and its neighbors, great social needs coexisting with great resources to meet those needs. From the beginning, the volunteer efforts of the Chest’s Board, currently chaired by Richard Kennedy, have been crucial to its success. The only staff is a part-time Executive Director, a position currently held by Dr. Shelly Wimpfheimer. The Community Chest continues to perform its very important function of raising funds in a coordinated way, enabling donors to support many agencies with one check, and directing those funds in a structured way to the many worthwhile charitable groups operating in the Englewood area.