Fifty years ago, if you did not donate to the Community Chest, a neighbor would come knocking at your door. For 10 days during October citizens fanned out across town in search of funds to service those in need. It took such a spirited sense of community to create the Concord Community Chest in 1947.
Winthrop Lee, one of the four founding members, recalls it was Morgan Smith who had the idea to break away from the regional Red Feather Campaign, the predecessor to the United Way. Red Feather balked at Concord's forming its own group, but the local leaders could not be dissuaded. Past Board president Mary Johnson, whose husband was a founder, said accountability was a key reason for the change. 'When you gave locally you knew where your money was going,' she says. In the end, Red Feather became one of the seven agencies funded by the Concord Community Chest that first year. Lee says Emerson Hospital was the primary beneficiary, receiving 88 percent of the funds.
Once Concord was on its own, the fund- raising campaign generated a groundswell of grassroots enthusiasm. With military-like precision canvassers were organized into neighborhood teams. Boy Scouts tacked up posters featuring the now familiar Community Chest Minute Man on utility poles all around town.
The logo, like the organization, has withstood the test of time. It was researched, designed and painted by Mary Ogden Abbott, a Concord artist, who lived in the Daniel Chester French house on Sudbury Road. Originally, founders considered using a photograph of French's Minute Man statue. Abbott's design was intended to be historically accurate with the farmer's gun at the ready and his weight thrown into the plow. His labor for the benefit of the community was meant to typify the spirit of the Community Chest that everyone is working for the benefit of all.
The early campaigns were buoyed by the local newspapers. In 1948 The Concord Journal banner was turned into the group of people pulling the plowing Minute Man toward the fund-raising goal. A column, 'Chest Chatter' announced events and happenings and each agency published its own description of it services in the K.Y.C.C. - Know Your Community Chest.
Over the years needs have changes and agencies have come and gone. Carlisle joined with the Concord Community Chest in 1968, just about the same time that the regional high school was graduating its first class.
The design of the campaign brochures themselves has gone from the sedate 1950s, through the flashy '70s (a bright green flyer with a line drawing doubled as a kitchen wall decoration), to the more graphically sophisticated '90s. Through it all the Community Chest has maintained it s primary mission as neighbors helping neighbors.
In recent years the Chest has become a catalyst for community problem-solving. One example is the promotion of teen activities and parent education following a community-wide assessment that identified unmet needs in these areas.
Mary Johnson, reflecting on five decades of service says, "At the beginning the Chest was real homespun. It's come a long way, but there remains a vital community connection. It's proactive, dynamic, it is right out there all the time."