History column: How Hamilton organizations and leaders ensured Christmas for locals

Donated funds from individuals, businesses and organizations was primary funding source for program managed by Chamber.

Editor’s note: The column is submitted on behalf of the Butler County Historical Society.

Near the end of 1921, the Hamilton area was suffering from a number of economic problems. World War I had ended three years earlier and manufacturers had problems shifting from war time to peacetime production.

Nationally, the re-entry of 2.5 million soldiers into the civilian labor force drove the country’s unemployment rate from 5.2% to 11.7%. In Ohio alone, unemployment in the manufacturing, transportation and building sectors had skyrocketed from 7.2% in 1920 to 23.1% in 1921. A financial panic also occurred when the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had reached a peak of 119.6 in November 1919, dropped to 63.9 — a decline of 47% in August 1921.

It was against these conditions that Darrell Joyce, Hamilton school superintendent, formed a committee of industrialists, merchants, politicians and educators on Dec. 7, 1921, to develop a Christmas program for a list of needy families it would create. The group, working under the auspices of the Hamilton Federation of Charities, adopted the slogan of “Christmas in Every Home” for their endeavor. Three goals were set for their work: [1] to provide Yuletide happiness to every needy family in the city, [2] create a clearinghouse where families needing assistance could be listed to eliminate duplications, and [3] to make “Christmas in Every Home” a truly civic movement.

At the suggestion of John E. Northway, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce took the lead role in the effort and all work done was reported through that organization. Lynn Forbes was chosen as the general manager of the program and given the honorary name of “Santa Claus.” Merchants, companies and individuals donated parcels of clothes, boxes of toys, bags of fruit, nuts and candy. The E. J. Frechtling Company and Wirtz Company donated seven tons of coal which they delivered to the needy homes identified by the Chamber.

The first community group to join the effort was the Hamilton Lions Club. The club indicated it would receive clothes and toys, make repairs where needed and turn them over to the committee for distribution. It also worked to deliver the Christmas packages to the needy. Trucks provided by area manufacturers were used to deliver the items to each family as directed by the Lions Club. Each parcel was specifically created for one of the 566 named families, based on its number of people, their ages, genders and clothing sizes.

To finance the operation, cash donations were solicited and made directly to the Chamber of Commerce. No direct or personal appeals for money was made by committee members.

Donated funds from individuals, businesses and organizations would remain the primary funding source for the program. The Rotary Club made the first large donation of $250. Most donations, however, were in the $5-$10 range. The total donated the first year was $1,691.69 — a high amount considering that all the work was done in three weeks’ time.

Over the years, community groups, churches, student organizations and employee groups created a variety of fundraising activities to help fund the program. Large card parties, charity balls, symphony concerts, auctions, film showings at the Paramount and Rialto theaters, style shows, rummage sales, white elephant sales, wrestling matches, dancing school recitals, dramatic readings and other activities were staged to raise money, collect clothes and canned food items for needy families.

Several groups collected hundreds of toys for distribution.

‘Christmas in Every Home’ managed by Chamber

From 1921 through 1939, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce organized and supervised all activities related to the “Christmas in Every Home” program. Persons serving as the general chairman of the program were Lynn Forbes (1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925), S. M. Goodman (1926, 1927, 1928), Lucian L. Kahn (1929), Peter E. Rentschler (1930, 1931, 1932), Thomas. G. Nolloth (1933, 1934, 1937, 1938), and J. A. B. Lovett (1935, 1936). Hundreds of others were involved in the work done to identify needy families, repair clothing and toys, prepare food baskets for delivery and transporting the food baskets to the needy families on Christmas Eve.

Raising the funds the chamber needed to successfully complete each year’s goals was a constant struggle. On Oct. 14, 1933, the chamber voted to discontinue its sponsorship of the “Christmas in Every Home” program. The Journal-News reported that the chamber’s decision was made “due to present conditions as well as to the fact that the needy are now being provided for by the federal and state governments working through the city and Bureau of Social Work.” The new modified policy meant that food baskets would be created and distributed through regular welfare and relief channels rather than the chamber and that no appeal for funds to provide baskets of food would be made.

Homer Gard, treasurer of the Christmas committee, led an effort to develop a “toy fund” to seek toys and cash donations for their purchase. While relief agencies provided about 1,425 baskets for needy families in 1933, an additional 9,000 toys were given to children across the community by the committee organized by Gard.

In 1934, the Chamber of Commerce resumed an active role in the “Christmas in Every Home” program, however the distribution of food was still done by relief and welfare agencies. The chamber prepared 2,155 baskets for homes with children. Each basket contained an apple, an orange and a box of Christmas candy for each child, toys, a sack of nuts, a Christmas cake and jelly and preserves.

By 1935, it was estimated that the “Christmas in Every Home” program had distributed food baskets prepared for 12,900 families or about 48,500 people at a total cost of $34,925, or roughly $2.70 per family.

Salvation Army steps in

In 1938, fundraising to meet the demands of purchasing perishable foods and other foods for the Christmas baskets was quite difficult. The program delivered baskets to about 1,500 families, supplemented by baskets for roughly 1,000 other families by the Salvation Army, church groups and community organizations. Cash donations, however, were less than $1,500, an amount insufficient for the program to create baskets as originally planned.

On Nov. 23, 1939, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors unanimously voted to discontinue the “Christmas in Every Home” program. The reason for stopping the program was the “increasing difficulty in raising the necessary money with donations increasingly less in amount. In addition, there has been an increase of industrial plants in providing for the needy among their own employees.”

For the 1939 Christmas season the Salvation Army, under the leadership of Major James M. Hepburn, became the clearinghouse for all church, civic and business organizations which prepared Christmas baskets for needy families. In effect, the Army did all that the chamber had done during the 1921 to 1939 period. Locally, the Salvation Army had a solid record of providing needy families with relief during Christmas dating to at least 1905 and possibly as early as 1894 when the first Army missionaries began service in Hamilton.

Donations of food, clothing, toys and cash from civic activities were received by the Army and placed in a special Christmas fund. Most of the fundraising activities such as concerts, film showings, wrestling matches, dances, auctions and the like were continued with the profits passing to the Army’s Christmas fund. In 1940, the Salvation Army began supplementing the voluntary cash donations the Christmas fund received by using its red kettles to raise funds.

Major Hepburn managed the Army’s Christmas Fund activities from 1939 through 1942. He was followed by Major Franklin W. Hoffman who supervised the programs from 1943 until 1953. Other Army officers that managed the Christmas Fund activities included Captain Raymond Hebert (1954-1955), Captain Morris Richardson (1956-1957), Captain Sidney Langford (1958-1963), Major Henry Baker (1964-1965), Captain Charles Coles (1966-1969), Major Ernest Ashcraft (1970), Charles Blumenthal (1971), Major C. Wesley Laws (1972-1974), and Major Jacob Hohn (1975).

When the Army began its supervision of the “Christmas in Every Home” project in 1939, cash donations totaled only $1,537. Over the years, annual seasonal contributions, including money generated by the Army’s red kettles, steadily increased such that slightly more than $10,000 was received in 1956. The total donations reached almost $16,000 in 1962 and nearly $19,000 in 1969. In 1974, contributions totaled $20,500, an amount well below the Army’s goal of $30,000 for the season.

In 1974, the Army’s holiday campaign was marketed as “Operation Christmas Cheer” rather than “Christmas in Every Home.” Cash donations, red kettle money, funds from the local United Way organization, and other contributions were used for a variety of the Army’s charitable projects throughout the year including the Christmas food baskets, repair and purchase of toys for children, providing clothing, and other items to meet the temporary emergency needs of people. Some of the funds were used for building upkeep, officer’s salaries and other financial needs. The Army’s service area was also expanded to include Fairfield, Little Miami, Oxford and neighboring rural communities.

Since 1975, the Army has continued its service to needy families and has endeavored to meet the physical and spiritual needs of people. It has worked to make the community a better place in which to live.

Christmas 2023 marks the 102nd consecutive year of a program begun by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and continued by Hamilton’s Salvation Army to bring the joy of Christmas to thousands of families and tens of thousands children. Regardless of the program’s name over the years, the goal has always been to enable all residents to have a wonderful “Christmas in Every Home.”

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