Exhibit celebrates 85 years of The Community Chest BY HILLARY VIDERS - SPECIAL TO NORTHERN VALLEY PRESS
This year, The Community Chest has been celebrating its 85th anniversary with a number of special events. The most recent milestone is an impressive historical exhibition at the Englewood Public Library that documents how the non-profit organization was founded in 1933 and how it has continued to make a difference in the community for more than eight decades.
The Community Chest, guided by its motto of “Neighbors Helping Neighbors,” leads initiatives and supports nonprofits that make communities stronger and benefit people in eastern Bergen County. It also provides coordinating and planning services in its communities, serving as a bridge between agencies and organizations and investing in the stability and quality of the service network.
A venerable history
During The Great Depression, in the early 1930s, when the country was riddled with unemployment, homelessness, and hunger, caring members of the community came together in eastern Bergen County and started The Community Chest.
The founders had a vision to fill a chest with individualsʼ and businessesʼ generous contributions and to empty its contents by awarding grant funds to support worthy projects led by area non- profits. Englewood philanthropist and humanitarian Elizabeth Cutter Morrow was asked to lead the organization.
“The Community Chest is a miracle only in the sense that the human spirit rising above difficulties is always a miracle,” said Morrow, the organizationʼs found- ing Board Chair, at a board meeting on Nov. 9, 1933.
In the first year, 3,350 donors responded and contributed $116,686, the equivalent of over $2 million today.
“These individuals were worried about their neighbors and the organizations providing social services for the neediest,” said Richard Kennedy, the current president of The Community Chestʼs Board of Managers. “The basic idea was to allow these institutions to focus their efforts on into their work and not to worry about funding.
The Chestʼs 85th Anniversary exhibit will remain at the Engle- wood Public Library until Sept. 28. It provides a fascinating portal into not only the organization's growth but also Englewood's history.
According to The Community Chestʼs director, Dr. Shelly Wimpfheimer, creating the display involved a year of poring through old files, letters and photos, trying to re-tell the story of the organiztionʼs history. Amongst the exhibit's displays are a history book, a blowup of the New Jersey State Certificate of Incorporation, and a documentary video that was shown at the Chestʼs 2018 gala.
“We enjoyed discovering the history of The Community Chest since its inception,” said Wimpfheimer. “Interesting letters were found from 1932 of recorded conversations among people, who had ideas to create a community chest. Other documents showed the process the founders used to research the needs in the area by surveying the service agencies to determine if a community chest would be helpful.”
Spread around several walls and display cases on the libraryʼs main floor are also groupings of photos, and historical documents and booklets, such as the Chestʼs annual reports. The memorabilia was curated in partnership with the Englewood Historical Society and the Englewood Public Library and is artfully displayed by noted designer Kathy Rebek.
On Sept. 6, the public was invited to attend the opening reception of the exhibit. Several dozen Englewood residents marveled at the exhibitʼs attention to detail. Attendees included Wimpfheimer and Kennedy, Co-Presidents of the Englewood Historical Society Imari Nacht and Charlotte Bennett Schoen, Councilwoman Katharine Glynn, Former Councilman Scott Red- din, Rev. Dr. Stephanie Harper and Library Director John Arthur. As people enjoyed light refreshments, mingled and toured the exhibit, Wimpfheimer proudly remarked that, “Since 1933, The Community Chest has undertaken its mission every year with increased benevolence to help people in need.”