A Call to Help, Still Sounding a Century On


In 1918, when the soldiers returned from the war and New York experienced a pandemic, the readers opened their wallets. In 2020, generosity will continue.

Michael Wilson

It was a bad year that raised a new question we know today: How can you ask more of those who have lost so much?

The New York Times Most Urgent Cases Foundation is only in its sixth year. It was founded in 1912 after newspaper publisher Adolph S. Ochs confronted a man who asked him for help. Mr. Ochs had an idea, sent a reporter to investigate, and the hundred most needy cases appeared in New York. Unpainted stories about the plight of individuals and families experiencing temporary setbacks began to appear in the Times during the holiday season.

His early years were fruitful. But in December 1918, New York was a very different city. The flu epidemic killed more than 20,000 people in the city and damaged neighborhoods, homes and families. The disease has rewritten the rules for shopping, the subway and public gatherings and has terrified the economy.

In this transformed city, soldiers and sailors left the battlefields of World War I with limping limbs and disabling injuries – some visible, some not.

The 1918 campaign seemed to anticipate the rush of donations from tired and sick readers and built on its appeal to these realities.

More than ever, America has become a nation of manufacturers, the Times wrote on the 15th. December 1918: Everyone does something, but there are still men who due to illness, injury or old age, women and children who cannot take care of themselves due to the death or illness of the family worker, now need help most urgently.

The question of whether New Yorkers will approach this event in one way or another will be resolved in the few remaining days of the year.

One hundred and two years later, in 2020, the call comes again at a difficult time. The coronavirus has created new openings that seem too large for humans. If there was a year to skip charity, 2020, and other years after that, would be a candidate.

But the results say otherwise.

In recent years the Foundation has responded to the 11. September and Hurricane Sandy with separate campaigns about these crises and an annual campaign. Readers donated more than $1.6 million to help with hurricanes and more than $50 million to the September 11th fund.

Updated website

17. December 2020, 13:11 ET

As the pandemic spread this year, the Foundation launched a special campaign to support organisations that provide direct assistance to those most directly affected. A total of $2,194,753.25 was raised for coronavirus control.

The Most In Need campaign has so far yielded more than 5 million dollars for 10 organizations. One of the new donors in 2020 is Karen Tong, 14 years old, from East Brunswick, New Jersey. She got a Christmas present from Aunt Brenda Tong, who came with a question: Would you like to donate it to charity?

Karen said yes and asked that the $50 go to the Neediest Cases Foundation, a charity she had heard of in her country.

I found it online, she says. When I was younger, my grandparents always reminded me that not everyone is lucky enough to grow up in a good home, have a good education and not have to worry about not having food on the table the next day.

In 1918, readers responded to a call to help the needy by donating a single dollar. Some donors tried to limit their losses this year by highlighting one of the 100 cases marked during the campaign, each simply numbered and credited (two homeless brothers, seven men, two dollars).

Can I have this present for suitcase 28? A woman wrote to the Times. I just lost my 9-month-old baby to flu pneumonia and I know the pain in that poor woman’s heart.

In the end, the campaign was a great success. By the end of 1918, the fund had raised more than enough money to fund 100 cases it had set up and provided care and necessities for nearly 100 more cases over a year, the Times reported on the 31st. December 1918.

The current fund is probably by far the largest ever raised for this work, wrote the Times. The fact that New Yorkers have responded so easily and satisfactorily to this call is particularly commendable given the difficulties encountered by most scholarships this year.

One of these positions, far from New York City, looks familiar a century later, just like Karen’s $50 from a 12-year-old named Thomas Bragg Gunter of Rosebud, Texas.

I see in your 18-year-old newspaper that people respond more freely to requests for help for the 100 most needy girls than for poor boys, Thomas wrote in the Times. My dad sent me a check for $10 at Christmas, which I sent you to share with the two boys. It’s a Christmas present for her. I’ll do it without.

Donations to the Foundation for the Needs can be made online or by cheque.

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