In the 60 years of its existence, Near & Far Aid has evolved from a small kitchen table charity to a consortium of community leaders committed to targeting poverty and changing lives in Fairfield County.
The seeds of what would eventually become Near & Far Aid took root at the Naval Air Base in Pensacola, Florida during the early years of World War II. Jeannie Fay, who was stationed there with her husband, a naval pilot, was involved with a Woman’s Auxiliary composed of servicemen’s wives whose husbands were on active duty at nearby Army and Naval bases. Their “Project,” as it was called, was both local and overseas.
Locally, they worked with the disabled, elderly and naval personnel back from the war. Overseas they responded to the deprivations people faced all over Europe by providing clothing, medicine and other essentials, shipping them where they would be needed most.
When the Fays settled in Southport after the war, Jeannie galvanized a small group of similarly concerned women into a full-fledged organization helping not only those abroad but those within their local area just as she had done in Florida.
In April of 1954, this organization was formally christened “Near & Far Aid Association, Inc.” In a letter Jeannie Fay wrote that year to the members of her new Board, she said,
“The problems of fear, frustration, poverty and despair can be somehow stood up to if their victims suddenly realize they have friends who care.”
In the 1950’s, and early 1960’s, the profits from fundraising efforts through bake sales, tea parties, rummage sales, a distribution center and thrift shop were miniscule. One hundred dollars raised was regarded as fortuitous; $1,000 was a bonanza. Most of the money went to the purchase and shipment of clothes, medicine and food to needy families throughout the world.
In 1969, Near & Far Aid, extending its hand to those in this community, by initiating a program of camperships, both resident and day, for children from the inner city of Bridgeport. In that same year, Near & Far Aid funded ABCD Residential Youth Center in Bridgeport for young men forced to leave their homes. It was one of six pilot programs in the United States and underscores Near & Far Aid’s commitment to supporting much needed and under-funded projects in Fairfield County.
When the situation in Europe eased and Near & Far Aid turned its attention to the needs in its own backyard, the organization began to look for more lucrative ways to raise funds in order to meet the flood of applications for assistance. Elizabeth Cullen, a founding member of Near & Far Aid and close friend of the Fays, read an article about the success of the Winter Antiques Show in New York City. Elizabeth contacted their show manager, Russell Carrell, who was then the foremost antiques show manager in the country. Two years later, in 1965, the Southport-Westport Antiques Show made its debut at the Longshore Country Club.
In 1973, the Antiques Show moved to the Fairfield County Hunt Club where for the next 31 years it reigned as one of the five most prestigious shows in the country. The overwhelming success of this show changed Near & Far Aid forever. The Preview Party opened the Show and was the springtime social event of the season. A House Tour ran on the first day of the three-day Show and various teas, luncheons, speakers, raffles and other Show specials added to the activity and bottom line.
In 1997, the Committee approached Mitchells of Westport with an idea of having a Pre-Antiques Show event that would occur a few months prior and include an evening party and fashion show at their store. It was an immediate success and the partnership with the Mitchells family brought immeasurable benefits. The Antiques Show was retired in 2004 and what is now called the Spring Gala at Mitchells continues strong and is the uncontested social event of Fairfield County.
The House Tour continues and is a highly popular event with its own “preview” Toast the Tour party as well as a pre-tour Breakfast with a renowned interior design personality as speaker. The Golf Classic was added in 2000 and is held each fall at the Country Club of Fairfield, with the exception of the year of the great hurricane when the course was closed and it moved to Winged Foot.
The extraordinary success of these fundraising efforts increased the amount the organization could grant annually to over a $1 million by 1999. The number of grant requests soared as the needs of the Fairfield County community grew. The Board by this time had committed all of its resources to Fairfield County non-profit agencies and put in place measured guidelines for researching each agency’s request for funding.
Change, growth and expansion are inevitable parts of progress. Near & Far Aid has come a long way from the kitchen table group of ladies 60 years ago but it’s amazing how much remains the same.
Near & Far Aid is still made up of a group of highly dedicated women who come together in the spirit of giving back to the community and continues to build on the strength of its mission of targeting poverty and changing lives.
Our appreciation to Olivia H. Dunn for the excerpt from her 2004 History of Near & Far Aid.