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Dec. 6, 1910: Good Fellows fill thousands of Christmas stockings

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: December 20, 2013 - 1:42 PM
 
It was a wonderful suggestion from a big-hearted reader, and the newspaper jumped on it with enthusiasm: Find impoverished children in need of Christmas cheer and match them with generous citizens who want to play Santa Claus. One element of the program, however, will seem irresponsible to modern readers. The Tribune provided each “Good Fellow” a list of the names, ages and addresses of children needing help. The Good Fellows then delivered gifts to those mostly-fatherless households. Call me cynical, but I’m not sure all the Good Fellows would have cleared a criminal background check. Still, the program appears to have worked splendidly, showering thousands of needy children with presents over the next five years. Then, in 1915, the Good Fellows program was gone, with no explanation given.

Here is the reader letter that started it all:

To the “Good Fellows” of Minneapolis
 
Last Christmas and New Year’s eve you and I went out for a good time and spent from $10 to $200. Last Christmas morning over 1,000 children awoke to an empty stocking, the bitter pain of disappointment that Santa Claus had forgotten them. Perhaps it wasn’t our fault. We had provided for our own; we had also reflected in a passing way on those less fortunate than our own, but they seemed far off and we didn’t know where to find them. Perhaps in the hundred and one things we had to do some of us didn’t think of that heart sorrow of the child over the empty stocking.
 
Now, old man, here is a chance. I have tried it for several years and ask you to consider it. Just send your name and address to The Tribune – address Santa Claus – state about how many children you are willing to protect against grief over that empty stocking, inclose a two-cent stamp and you will be furnished with the names, addresses, sex, and age of that many children. It is then up to you, you do the rest. Select your own presents, spend 50 cents or $50, and send or take your gifts to those children on Christmas eve. You pay not a cent more than you want to pay – every cent goes just were you want it to go. You gain neither notoriety nor advertising; you deal with no organization; no record will be kept; your letter will be returned to you with its answer. The whole plan is just as anonymous as old Santa Claus himself.
 
This is not a newspaper scheme. The Tribune was asked to aid in reaching the good fellows by publishing this suggestion and to receive your communication in order that you may be assured of good faith and to preserve the anonymous character of this work. The identity of the writer of this appeal will not be disclosed. He assumes the responsibility of finding the children and sending you their names and guarantees that whatever you bestow will be deserved.
 
Neither you nor I get anything out of this, except the feeling that you have saved some child from sorrow on Christmas morning. If that is not enough for you then you have wasted time in reading this – it is not intended for you, but for the good fellows of Minneapolis.
 
Perhaps a twenty-five cent doll or a ten cent tin toy wouldn’t mean much to the children you know, but to the child who would find them in the otherwise empty stocking they mean much – the difference between utter disappointment and the joy that Santa Claus did not forget them. Here is where you and I get in. The charitable organization attends to the bread and meat; the clothes; the necessaries; you and the rest of the good fellow furnish the toys, the nuts, the candies; the child’s real Christmas.
 
- A Good Fellow
 
The Tribune has investigated the “good fellow” who wrote the above, has looked him in the eye and put its O.K. on the plan. The reporter who saw him wrote: “He made me feel, personally, that it would be really worthwhile in satisfaction to carry a little happiness to some children who otherwise wouldn’t get any on Christmas eve.” The writer is not a professional philanthropist. He has taken care of from fifteen to twenty children a year in Minneapolis. He said that last Christmas day he wished he had curtailed his holiday joy-making with the good fellows even more than he did, so that he might have had more money to gladden childish hearts.
 
The Worthy Grand Master of the lodge of Good Fellows has laid his plans for securing names through school teachers, investigators of various organizations who work in poverty stricken districts and others who come in contact with those whom we always have with us. Lists of worthy cases will be welcomed from such organizations as the Visiting Nurses’ association, the Associated Charities, Humane society, and churches of all denominations. These lists should be verified and certified to by the officers of the organizations submitting them and should be arranged by wards and divisions of the city.
 
This is how you can join the lodge of Good Fellows. Write a letter to “Santa Claus,” care of The Tribune, something like this:
 
I live at N. ----- street. I will be Santa Claus to six children. – John Jones.
 
The letter will go to Santa Claus. He will indorse on your letter the names and addresses of six children. This letter will be remailed to you. Then you get busy. That’s all. Come in, good fellows.
 
God bless us, every one: On Dec. 24, 1910, this marvelous illustration appeared on the Minneapolis Tribune's editorial page, celebrating the success of the first Good Fellows program. More than 2,500 needy children received gifts distributed by 554 generous souls.
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