Last week my article was on a baseball game sponsored by the Sayre Emergency Relief Fund in 1932. The fund is just one instance of how the great depression that began in 1929 was felt in Sayre and the Valley and how the residents of that time responded to the needs of the people. I have researched the fund and the following is the story of how it started.
An organization, the function of which was to relieve such suffering as may result from the unemployment situation in Sayre and to be known as the Emergency Relief was founded Wednesday evening November 26, 1930 by a group of representative citizens who met in the office of Thomas P. O’Farrell.
Dr. Donald Guthrie, surgeon of the Robert Packer hospital, headed the organization as general chairman, D. W. Davis, superintendent of the Lehigh Sayre system shops was named vice president; Howard E. Bishop, superintendent of the Robert Packer hospital was secretary, and Leon B. Shedden, president of the First National bank, treasurer.
It was decided to ask the head of each civic, fraternal and charitable organization; representatives of organizations having headquarters elsewhere but having many members in Sayre, and borough officials to serve on the general committee and to meet Tuesday December 2, in the town hall to outline program activities.
Among those asked to serve were Burgess (now Mayor) Ellery L. Stone; George D. Bonfoey, secretary of the borough council; Chief of Police Ray Nobles; Harry Zeller, chief of the fire department; Miss Myra Druckenmiller, probation officer; L. E. Delaney, superintendent of schools; William Barnes, president of the school board; D. J. Leahy, chairman of the businessmen’s committee of the Chamber of Commerce; Thomas P. O’Farrell, chairman of the Red Cross; P. T. Reilly, superintendent of the Seneca division of the Lehigh; Captain Swackhammer of the Salvation Army; Daniel Tierney of the Elks’ lodge; Paul Atwood of the American Legion; James Hart of the Knights of Columbus; Mrs. Harper Mercereau of the Monday club; Cecil Haight of the Sayre System Shops Athletic association; Vern Hicks of the Rotary club; Dr. M. D. Martin of the Lions’ club; Louis Conte of the Sons of Italy; representatives of the railroad brotherhoods, of the Moose, the Shriners and the Odd Fellows.
Among the activities planned at the onset of the organization were the charity moving picture shows, to be held in the Sayre theater on Sunday November 30, the proceeds of which were handed over to the organization; a football game to be played between Sayre and Waverly high school teams, all eligibility rules were waved, on December 6, and a dancing party in the Shops Assembly hall the week of December 16.
A special committee to investigate all of the needy cases in Sayre was designated and it was the hope of the leaders of the movement that not a child on Sayre would go to bed hungry or cold on any winter night.
While the efforts of the organization were directed especially towards Sayre cases, needy families of Waverly or Athens were given attention provided they were not cared for by organizations in those places, It was hoped that similar organizations would be formed in both valley towns and that all three groups would cooperate.
On Monday December 1, 1930 the Sayre Evening Times reported the following: Relief Fund is given start by benefit movies. Audience not as large as had been expected, weather and adverse feeling tending to keep down attendance.
A nice sum, although not as large as expected, to start the fund for unemployment relief in Sayre, was raised at the three-benefit motion picture shows in the Sayre theater yesterday.
Unfavorable weather together with the feeling against Sunday pictures, which was strengthened by the attitude of most of the ministers, tended to keep the number attending down but there were about 300 at the matinee and about the same at the evening performance.
One minister, who said he was expressing the views of four other protestant clergymen, told his congregation at the morning service in his church that if they felt like giving to charity they might bring the 35 cents, which each would pay for a theater ticket, to the evening service and put it in the plate.
The picture “Love in the Rough” starring Robert Montgomery and Dorothy Jordan, was a musical comedy and was well received.
Plans for further benefit activities would be made at the meeting of the newly organized Emergency Relief at the meeting set for December 2, 1930.
The Sayre Emergency Relief had an office on West Lockhart street, it was still active in 1934.
Henry Farley is a founding member and a current board member of the Sayre Historical Society. He is also president of the Bradford County Historical Society.