Donation Day a 114-year tradition
It was welfare, at a time when Grass Valley’s founding fathers needed it most.
With the embryonic mining industry reeling from the closure of the large Eureka mine in the winter of 1883, the task of spurring some 19th-century benevolence was left to an invalid and the might of what is now perhaps the oldest service organization in the area.
From her house at 319 Neal Street, Caroline Mead Hansen, who passed the days watching children walk to and from school, wrote to The Union in the hopes the fledgling Grass Valley Ladies Relief Society would come to the town’s aid.
Hansen proposed having all school children bring one piece of stove wood and one potato to school, to be disbursed by the Ladies Relief Society to needy families.
Friday, hundreds of Grass Valley and Nevada City elementary school children will parade through downtown Grass Valley carrying nonperishable food in support of the annual Donation Day Parade, carrying on a tradition now in its 114th year. The donations will be delivered to Hennessy Elementary School.
“It’s a massive effort for the community,” said Jenifer Padgett, a fifth generation Grass Valley resident who is a third-generation member of the Ladies Relief Society. “This event has endured because of tradition and need, and a desire to help the community.”
With the help of the local Salvation Army, Padgett hopes to help 145 families this year.
Padgett carried the Donation Day parade flag in her youth; her sons will do the honors Friday.
Most who are familiar with Donation Day may not be aware of the Ladies Relief Society. Donation Day is their big annual event, though the group does award scholarships to students once a year. Most of the work of the group is done in one single day, as the children return to Hennessy School with their cans.
It will happen again Friday, rain or shine. If it should rain, Hennessy Principal Margaret Eli said her students will march inside the school’s halls before handing in their cans.
As a child, attorney Ray Shine remembers a day nearly 50 years ago when the mines were closing and he was one of only two in his grade-school whose father wasn’t losing his job because of the mine shutdowns.
“Our town was dying at that point. We were all wondering if we would have to leave,” said Shine, who attended Bell Hill, Washington and Hennessy schools. Donation Day 1956 was “one of the first times I realized people didn’t have the middle-class breaks I had,” said Shine, whose father managed Alpha Hardware at the time.
All four generations of Charlie Jakobs’ family have marched in Donation Day. His late mother, Harriet Lobecker Jakobs, was a longtime member of the Relief Society, always marching with a stick and potato in the parade.
“I’m proud to be part of this ancient and worthwhile tradition, and I think it will go on forever. We will always have people in need,” said Jakobs, who was in the first class at Mt. St. Mary’s School that marched in 1964.
The parade has outlasted the mines – and modern times.
“If you like kids and you like the concept, how can this be outdated?” Padgett said.
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Donation Day Parade featuring elementary students of Grass Valley and Nevada City
WHEN: When: 10 a.m. Friday
WHERE: From Hennessy Elementary School down Mill Street
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