The Community Chest celebrated its milestone 85th Anniversary in 2018. Launched by a group of 450 dedicated residents of Englewood, New Jersey during the height of the Great Depression, the inspiration for them was clear -- high unemployment and shuttered local banks and businesses caused numerous Englewood residents to lose their homes and livelihoods. Local government agencies and nonprofits, such as Englewood Hospital, the Salvation Army and the Social Services Federation experienced a tsunami of demand unlike anything they had encountered before. Then and there, the city's leaders decided something had to be done to help their own.
On the brisk spring day of June 3, 1932, Mayor Cornelius P. Kitchel's organizing committee informed him of “what we believe to be a very spontaneous and widespread public demand for a community chest in Englewood." The committee concluded Englewood had a wonderful communal spirit and a large number of residents with the financial means and knowhow to serve and a Community Chest money raising campaign would be successful. In October, the committee proceeded with the new organization, The Community Chest of Englewood, and identified Elizabeth Cutter Morrow, as a leader, who had the caring spirit of the Englewood community.
Without hesitation, Mrs. Morrow, widow of Englewood’s best known resident and a possible future presidential candidate of the United States of America, Senator Dwight Morrow, who passed away suddenly in 1931, enthusiastically agreed to assume the position. As the momentum grew for this Chest, 33 residents with exceptional drive and determination accepted their positions on what became the Board of Managers, and the first fundraising campaign launched in September of 1933.
The resulting effort raised $116,000 in 1933, a large sum of money at the time, exceeding any sum raised in any peacetime year thereafter. The first member agencies to receive financial assistance were the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Social Service Federation, Citizens Employment Agency, the Salvation Army and Englewood Hospital. Since that very successful beginning, The Chest's fortunes ebbed and flowed over the next decades with the changing tides in society. The organization adjusted, raised funds to meet communal needs, and awarded grants to more agencies.
As the 1990’s rolled in, The Community Chest's contributions increased and the organization expanded services to Englewood Cliffs. During this time, The Chest also overcame economic downturns and raised upwards of a quarter million dollars! Under the watchful eyes of new board members like Joan Van Alstyne Johnson, The Chest prospered and grew.
Enter the new millennium, with the growth of the Internet, came globalization and an ever-increasing demand for help from The Community Chest. While other U.S. charitable organizations diverted funds to help those abroad and at home, The Chest stayed true to its roots and focused on the city of Englewood and supporting new service areas and nearby municipalities. As the community recovered from "The Great Recession," The Chest shone a positive light on the most vulnerable and in need in the community. During the early half of this decade, the Chest focused mostly on local children and elderly populations.
When Hurricane "Sandy" struck on October 29, 2012, bringing unprecedented damage to eastern New Jersey, The Community Chest responded to the need for disaster relief in Englewood and its surrounding communities. The board of managers and Executive Director Harriet Tanner unanimously approved a disaster relief allocation of $2,000 to the Women’s Rights Information Center, Center for Food Action, Visiting Homemaker Service, Bergen Family Center and the Vantage Health System.
In 2013, Dr. Rochelle “Shelly” Wimpfheimer assumed the position of Executive Director. Under her leadership, The Chest updated its administrative practices, increased its marketing in the region to reach a broader audience, and diversified its events to meet different audiences' interests.
Following a new 2016 strategic plan, the organization expanded its service area beyond the three towns of Englewood, Englewood Cliffs and Tenafly to fifteen municipalities in eastern Bergen County.
The Community Chest has come a long way since its founding in 1933. One wonders if the original group would have foreseen that the message that started it all would remain the same…neighbor helping neighbor, citizen helping citizen, because it was still simply the right thing to do.
Written by Michael Tekelly, Volunteer Historian
Edited by Joyce Luhrs