Mesa United Way traces its roots to March 29, 1921, when the Mesa Tribune announced the formation of the Mesa Welfare League “to care for the needy and hungry people here” after persistent reports surfaced of families and individuals suffering depravations including acute hunger.
According to the article, “Every religious denomination, every civic and educational body, and every fraternal organization in Mesa were represented at the meeting that was held at the Commercial Club rooms for the purpose of forming an organization to handle the charitable work of the town on an efficient basis, and one that would prevent the over lapping or the duplication of such relief work here.”
Mesa cotton farmers in the 1920s.
Thus began a tradition, which has persisted to this day, of Mesa’s business, civic, religious and educational leaders banding together to help the community’s needy citizens. One of the League’s founding officers was Mayor D.H. Kleinman, and the organization immediately set about investigating reported cases of need in the community.
During the organizational meeting, school nurse Nellie Wilcox “gave several instances of cases that she had encountered during the past few days in her tour of inspection where some people in Mesa are actually going hungry and where children are unable to attend school because of the fact that they have no lunches and, in some instances, no breakfasts.
“R.E. Riveira, a representative of the Mexican government who has been investigating the conditions among the Mexican workers in the valley for some time past, was at the meeting and promised to lend every possible aid in his power to facilitate the work of the organization among the Spanish speaking citizens. Mr. Riveira represented the Liga Protectora Latina at the meeting and assured the officers that his association stood ready to aid in the work that is to be done.”
Mesa Schools Superintendent H.E. Hendrix pledged the cooperation of school officials, and Mayor Kleinman proposed that an urgent appeal go out to the citizens of Mesa to provide donations of food and clothing to get the relief effort moving.
In early December 1921, the Tribune reported that League leaders commended the town’s businesses for stepping up and providing cash, clothing and food to help many families in need.
But persistent need, aggravated by an influenza epidemic that winter, led League leaders to issue another urgent appeal in the spring of 1922 for additional assistance from the community. Through the League’s efforts, actual needs among Mesa’s poor were finally beginning to surface, including an estimate by school officials that at least 100 children were attending school without food. According to the Tribune, the Mesa Rotary Club made a significant contribution to feed school children, and League volunteers were providing beds, bedding, household supplies and food to help flu victims.
The Mesa Welfare League continued to meet the needs of the community’s needy when the cotton market collapsed in 1928, and after the stock market collapsed in October 1929, ushering in the Great Depression. To streamline the growing challenge of collecting enough money, food and clothing to help Mesa’s expanding jobless population, the Mesa Community Fund was created and eventually took over the functions of the League.
In the 1970s, businesses and civic leaders across the country pushed for the creation of an umbrella organization that would efficiently collect donations and distribute assistance to people in need. United Way of America was born, and in 1981 the board of the Mesa Community Fund voted to become Mesa United Way.