Remarks of John F. Kennedy at a Red Feather Fundraising Meeting, Lawrence, Massachusetts, October 14, 1946

This is a year of challenge and decision. The question which rises squarely before the people of Lawrence is this:

Are we going to enable the Red Feather Services to carry on those health and social services to humanity which have made this community renowned for its social-consciousness? The alternative is plain. It is a sharp curtailment of essential services. This alternative is unthinkable. The challenge is put to every one of us. I firmly believe that the decision will be to keep the community strong. It is up to us to force that decision and I call upon everyone here this evening to do just that.

I am well aware of the fact that during the war we spent ourselves and our money without hesitation. Now many of us are tired. We want nothing so much as to go back to normalcy. This is the time of World Series; of football, of elections. But it is also a time that veterans and their families need help. A time that old people need care. You might ask or you might hear people say, “Does the community fund really need our money this year”, or “Why do they need so much money?” But everyone should know that “rising costs” is not simply a figure of speech. The cost of a week’s care for a baby in a foster-home has increased from $6.00 in 1941 to $10.00 in 1946. Maintenance costs, wages, and supplies have, of course, gone up. An average day’s ward care cost hospitals $7. in 1941, $9 in 1945, $10.50 in 1946 and is still spiraling. In addition, it is an inescapable fact that during the past five year period these Red Father agencies have been forced to use a large part of their capital funds to meet these rising costs.

You and I know that the Red Father is the well-known symbol of voluntary giving to meet human needs and it has the biggest job of its colorful career during this campaign.

The 1947 appeal marks the transition from war to peace more clearly than any other factor in community life. This”waging the peace” will have as its primary motive the return of the community fund to its original responsibility of meeting the needs of the local health and social services.

You and I will agree, I am sure, that the Red Feather must continue to stand and to fight against sickness, delinquency, disease, defeatism and despair.

The Red Feather must remain the symbol of the honest desire of the men and women of Lawrence to be good neighbors through their support of the community fund.

There has never been a time in our history when the American Family was under such heavy fire as it is today. If we continue at the present rate 2 out of every 5 couples in the United States are headed for divorce. War marriages will do nothing to lower this painful percentage. Broken homes, deserted wives, children whose emotional instability may lead to delinquency—these are not merely the after-math of war—they are a perennial reminder of why we need a community fund.

Take this typical case of the fine work being done. Two years ago, one of the private agencies received a telephone call to visit a home in one of the poorer sections and there was found a young 25 year old woman without a tear in her eye, but with a look of despair and defeat written on her face. After skillfully questioning the mother it was revealed that the husband had been sentenced to one of our penal institutions for a long period of time, that she had almost given up, that she had very little to eat and, as a matter of fact, both she and her little boy had been living on tea and bread for the last two weeks. Both showed marked evidence of malnutrition and lack of proper food. But the pitiable part of this case was the fact that this little boy had two club feet, that he hadn’t taken a step since he was born. The worker in this private agency saw that they immediately received proper food and clothing and the child was taken to the hospital where a series of operations were performed on his feet. The child required long convalescent care and this too was provided for by our Red Feather agencies. A worker saw that family just a week ago and the mother is now happy because her boy can now run and play. He has been given a decent start in the race of life—thanks to the Red Feather agencies.

You people who are taking part in this Red Feather campaign understand our common obligation to one another. You recognize that we are indeed “our Brother’s Keeper.” You recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights.

These are not easy times. With the turnover caused by the ending of the war—the unemployment, the millions of men trying to adjust themselves to peace-time life after years of fighting—these are indeed difficult times.

But as the times become more bitter, the needs become greater. There will be thousands of people in Lawrence who will not be able to afford hospital care and they will get just as sick as those who can afford it. Some may be the families of men who have died in the service of this country. The people of this country have earned the right to medical care.

A year ago I had the opportunity of observing the British elections. There were a number of reasons why the Socialist Party won, but there was one great reason that outweighed all others and that was a growing and complete dependence on the government to do everything. That feeling was strong, not only in Britain, but in all of Europe. Here in America we could let the government do this job. Perhaps some day we will have to, but I think it is far better if the people of this community do the job, if they willingly accept the obligation to help each other.

It is perhaps more difficult this way and it takes far greater time and effort, but in the long run it will give us great satisfaction, because we will know that we have truly done our part.

The people of the city of Lawrence have a great tradition for giving to worthy causes. In this community fund drive I know this tradition will be maintained, and if we give as we ought to give we will receive our reward.

“Come Blessed of my Father, take possession of the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world—for I was hungry and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger and you took me in: naked and you covered me: sick and you visited me: I was in prison and you came to see me.” “Oh Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and feed thee: thirsty and give Thee drink: When did we see Thee a stranger and take Thee in: naked and clothe Thee: When did we see Thee sick or in prison and come to visit Thee.” And answering the King will say, “Amen, I say to you as long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me.”

Speech source: David F. Powers Personal Papers. Series 09. John F. Kennedy Speeches File. Box 28, Folder: "Lawrence Community Fund, Lawrence, MA, 14 October 1946".