First published Dec. 2, 1982:
On Dec. 3 (1982), The Union Relief Association of Westfield will be 102 years old.
It was back in 1880 that a meeting was held at the Presbyterian Church to consider what should be done toward relieving the wants of the poor of the town. The result of that meeting was the formation of the Ladies Union Relief Society. The object of the society was to afford aid and relief to the suffering and worthy poor of this place.
Were you there? The Charity Ball of 1946 when Eason Hall still had a stage.
The competent board of officers was made up of Mrs. G.W. Patterson, president; Mrs. Harriet L. Minton, vice-president; Mrs. R.W. Scott, secretary; and Mrs. E.A. Skinner, treasurer.
The second meeting was held at the home of Mrs. Patterson on Second Street on the stormiest day of the season, and there was a small attendance, but the treasurer reported a letter with "kind words and ten dollars from H. Plumb and twenty-five dollars for encouragement from Mr. G.W. Patterson." Receipts for memberships were reported - 75 cents - three members at 25 cents annual dues.
The business of the day was appointing committees and "Districting the town." It seems that "Districting the town" meant assigning members sections of the town to canvass to learn which families were in need and which families had a bit of something to share. At the Dec. 13 meeting $11.56 in money, a beaver coat and two pairs of children's shoes had been collected.
The secretary recorded that "At the January 1881 meeting a resolution was adopted to bring thimbles and spectacles. The treasurer was late having been detained by carpet layers." The annual report for the year 1881 states that Union Relief was made up of the officers, associated with 21 collectors and 15 disbursers. The people generally were gracious and generous with the collectors, giving them $201.25 cash, together with a large amount of clothing. The association had assisted in some measure 37 families, furnishing them with supplies, a long list of which followed including such things as 150 pounds of corn meal, two chickens, four bars soap, two lemons, 5 yards silicia, 1 yard of wigging, etc.
In October 1884 the ladies of the Union Relief Association called attention to the fact that their treasury was empty and several sick and infirm persons were entirely dependent upon their beneficence. To tide them over the interval between this time and the annual November collections they decided to give an entertainment in old Virginia Hall, "Who's to Win Him?" Also in 1884, eight dollars was realized from a Ladies' Leap Year Party."
In the eighth annual report of the treasurer I found this item, "Cash from Charity Ball of February 10th, $84.00." This was no doubt the first Charity Ball, and for several years it was an annual event but in 1894, "The Charity Ball was postponed indefinitely as no one had time to attend to it during the holidays."
In 1922, Mrs. Bert Skinner moved that a Charity Ball be given under the auspices of the Union Relief about Christmas time and that Mrs. Paul Welch take charge of the arrangements.
Before the days of the school cafeteria, in 1929, at the direction of the Board of Education, Prof. Harry Eaton, principal of Westfield High School, asked the Union Relief to take over the school luncheons for the primary grades. At this time, Mrs. Mary Seeley was president. Fortunately for the society, as well as the luncheon project, Mrs. Seeley was especially qualified to take the management of this new undertaking. Acting as dietician with two Union Relief members serving the children each school day, and as assistant in the kitchen, the noon meal was prepared and served in the basement of the old high school building - at first prepared in the home-making room and served in an area without even a sink. During this period free milk and cod liver oil were provided for undernourished children.
In November 1935, the president, Mrs. Seeley, stated that there were 140 families on relief, and that if proposed Government Funds come to Westfield for local projects, it was expected that there would be very little relief work necessary. Mrs. Seeley also reported that the school would not be available as it would be needed for the band.
In December 1939 it was agreed to have a Cinderella dance at the Charity Ball - chances being sold. The lucky number would be the Cinderella, to lead the Grand March, and to be presented with a corsage.
In 1942 servicemen were admitted free to the Charity Ball.
The 1944 ball showed a profit of $216.37. "It was a lovely dance in spite of the storm which was the worst in the history of Westfield."
There have been many changes during the past century but the Union Relief Association still sponsors the annual holiday Charity Ball, its one fund-raising project each year. And the association continues to hold out a helping hand when temporary and emergency needs arise.