The year was 1936. There were folks in the Greene County area who needed a little help and more folks who were willing to provide the help. The county was still feeling the effects of the Great Depression, and although many had recovered, there were still some families who were barely making ends meet.
Margaret Helvenston better known as “Maggie” was the person who carried forth the idea which stemmed from the ladies of the Thursday Bridge Club. The ladies decided to help those less fortunate and began a toy donation project in 1936. The original group consisted of Kay Donges, Velma LeSourd, Louise McCallister, Dorothy Miller, Beatrice Mitchell, Virginia Ungard, Louise Huit and Hazel Lawson. The first year the group was in operation, 72 children from 18 families received Christmas toys.
Margaret Helvenston was the founder of the American Women’s Voluntary Services in 1942. In 1956, the name of the organization was changed to United Voluntary Services. At one time, it was the oldest and largest volunteer organization in the county, with the mission of distributing used and new clothing, shoes, layettes and medical assistance. The organization also distributed toys and eye glasses, as well as assisting veterans. The doll committee restored old dolls while the clothing committee made sure each garment was clean and in good repair before it was put out for donation.
In the mid 1960s Maggie, along with Mrs. John Flahive and Mrs. Irene Pagett made more than 600 ceramic angels which were designed to hang on a tree or hold a candle. They poured, bisqued, glazed and fired them theirselves. The angels were available in a variety of colors and would help to achieve the goal of purchasing toys for every child in the county who might not otherwise receive a gift.
A service club was operated from the old YMCA Gym to benefit GI’s home on leave. When World War II ended, the organization moved to the third floor of the Kingsbury building where they operated a Youth Community Living Room for the returning veterans.
In 1946 some of the volunteers founded the American Cancer Society unit supplying free headquarters, staff and equipment. In 1948 the 2nd floor of the building was available so UVS operate a Shopper Lounge providing clean rest rooms, check room service as well as a place to wait for a ride.
In time, climbing the steps with loads of clothing, etc. became a challenge so they moved to 199 Bellbrook Ave. Since the group had been very thrifty, there was adequate funding for the building located off Second Street in back of Majors at Kennedy Korners. Kennedy’s donated the land.
Unfortunately two ladies were killed in the building during the April 3, 1974 tornado. More than 160 tons of clothing was sorted at the Fairgrounds with aid from many different areas. Bellbrook donated a house and through the cooperation of several volunteers, Boy Scouts and local churches, a new UVS Unit was established there.
UVS continued to provide immediate assistance to victims of house fires, unemployed job seekers, low income families and school children as well as men and women coming from prison or substance abuse programs who were seeking to get their homes and lives back together. It was estimated that through the donations of slightly used clothing, volunteer service and cash contributions 1,200-1,400 families and individuals were helped each year.
When the National Voluntary Services Inc. held a conference in Denver, Colo., UVS won several awards including a national citation for “Best Community Services and Programs.”
A new building was constructed at 145 Bellbrook. Many years previously, Van Zant Office Equipment Company gave assistance to the organization by allowing them to earn funds with typewriter rentals.
When the new building was constructed, UVS was delighted to be able to offer Van Zant space in the new building. It was a great help that the rental of that portion would provide adequate funding for insurance and utilities.
The organization continued to thrive with no salaries given, but through hard work and continued service of many wonderful volunteers.
Today, other organizations have stepped forward to help those in need but those who have lived in Greene County for a number of years will never forget that United Voluntary Services provided a much-needed program for thousands of residents. Those whose children had outgrown clothing, or had purchased a new winter coat remember how graciously the donations were accepted by the volunteer staff. They staff took great care to ensure that each garment was in good repair when placed on the shelves. Those who received the assistance were grateful for the aid.
One other acknowledgement of Margaret Helvenston came with the presentation of the “Maggie Award,” given annually to two community volunteers who had given freely of their time and talents in a variety of venues. The prestigious award was named in honor of UVS founder Margaret Helvenston. One person was selected from each category “Under 50 years of age and over 50.” Recipients of the awards were nominated by local residents, and received what was considered at the time to be one of the highest honors awarded in the county.
Joan Baxter is a local resident and long-time historical columnist.
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