HARWICH — In 1899, Caleb Chase gave the town $10,000 to establish a fund to assist the less fortunate members of the community. That contribution has grown and provided between $300,000 and $500,000 in assistance to community members over the years.
Caleb Chase Fund Trustee Paul V. Doane made a presentation to selectmen last week on the status of the fund. It continues, 120 years later, to be a successful program, he said. The fund presently has a reserve of about $625,000 and generates $15,000 a year to assist residents in need.
Chase was born in West Harwich in 1831, the twelfth of 17 children of Job Chase, and while most of the brothers were in the maritime trade, Caleb Chase moved to Boston and became one of the founders of Chase & Sanborn Coffee Co., though he returned to West Harwich each summer. Chase and his wife, Salome, played a major role in the creation of the Chase Library in West Harwich.
Chase made donations to start funds in both Dennis and Harwich. The town of Dennis had special legislation promulgated in 2007 allowing for tax donations to be made to its fund, which was set up to provide for needs for the elderly.
The trustees of the Harwich fund – Doane, Robert Doane and James Stinson – have established an investment policy and they do their own investing, Doane said. It has worked well for Harwich.
The Harwich fund is administered through the council on aging with selectmen approving the appropriations. The fund makes payments directly to the vendors that provide services to beneficiaries, Doane said. The fund has been used over the years to assist residents with outstanding utility bills, but it was expanded during the pandemic, both in the size of grants and the ways they can be used. The grant cap was raised from $800 to $1,000 and the trustees removed a provision that kept applicants from seeking help only once every three years.
Among the expanded services now being covered, he said, are housing, rentals, car loans, healthcare, daycare and clothing programs for children. The trustees have also increased the average median income requirement to access the fund from 60 percent to 80 percent.
“It resulted in a tripling of the amount of grants this past year,” Doane added.
The trustees met on July 1and extended those provisions for another year. Broadening the categories of assistance the fund can provide introduced some complications. For example, medical, daycare and car loans require timely payments, and the grant process can take two to three months to complete.
“We’re working to come up with a system that maintains the integrity of the town system,” Doane said.
“You measure a town by how it treats its less fortunate,” Selectman Donald Howell said. “Heritage Harwich has, and I am proud.”
Having served as a Caleb Chase Trustee for 35 years, Doane said he will “hang in there” until the end of his term. Appointments to the trust are made by town moderator Michael D. Ford, who replaced Doane as moderator in 1976.