Hopkins County Community Chest has been around since a “very caring businessman” in the 1960s saw a need for emergency assistance among some families in the community.
Joining forces with the Red Cross, the agency was formed; Laura Cummings served as director. Her assistant, Billie Rose Chapman, later became director of Community Chest. In 1981, Lucy Vaden became the program’s third director.
Community Chest provides emergency assistance to qualified individuals in the form of clothing and school supplies for children, prescriptions and over-the-counter medication for adults and children, food, formula, diapers, rent and utility assistance, gas for transportation to see a doctor or to look for work, bus tickets for stranded individuals, emergency eye and dental care, and other emergency aid, as well as referrals to other agencies for additional needs.
Vaden has seen HCCC through a few moves and an ever-increasing need among the community for emergency assistance.
In the past, recipients have been predominantly children, the elderly and disabled — particularly those on fixed or low incomes. However, the recent economic downturn sent more individuals to Community Chest for help, according to HCCC Chair RaDona Adams. In 1981, HCCC served 300. In 2010, 3,240 families were given assistance. In 2011, 3,026 families were helped by HCCC. Last year, 3,030 families were given assistance.
When Vaden started working for HCCC in 1981, the program operated out of the Hopkins County Courthouse basement with food vouchers given to program recipients. HCCC then moved to the old Grocery Supply Co. warehouse off Jefferson Street until 1995, when a building provided by the county gave space for Community Chest and the Red Cross.
After a time, as needs grew, Community Chest needed more space.
“A local family came forth and provided a building we stayed in for 15 years,” Vaden recalled of the Sulta building HCCC utilized for 15 years.
In 2005, HCCC was contacted by Hopkins County Christian Alliance to administer a weekly food program, the Community Cupboard. The Christian Alliance purchases the food from a food bank and HCCC screens people referred to them to determine eligibility based on household income. Community Chest also purchases bags for the program and provides labor to distribute the bags of food.
In November 2009, when Northeast Texas Food Bank was forced to close, the food bank donated its building at 217 Linda Drive and all equipment inside of it to HCCC. This provided a large warehouse area, a walk-in cooler, a walk-in freezer and other equipment necessary to handle food. Community Chest moved into the building in July 2010 and has been there ever since to serve the community five days a week. Since the food bank closed, Community Chest also provides labor and transportation to get the food from North Texas Food Bank in Dallas’ designated drop-off point to HCCC for distribution. Currently, 200 to 250 families (90 percent of which are elderly, disabled or one-parent families) receive food each week from Community Cupboard.
This work, and all other work at HCCC, is carried out by the director or manager and two parttime employees, and is overseen by a board of directors who meet quarterly.
The program’s success over the last 32 years, board members indicated, can be attributed in large part to Lucy Vaden’s tireless service as director and advocate. Her kindness and compassion for the people served by HCCC and diligence in making the funds stretch to serve as many qualifying individuals as possible have been credited as key factors in the continued efficient operation of Community Chest.
Vaden described her work at Community Chest as a blessing, but noted it didn’t start out that way.
“When I began I thought, ‘I don’t want this job. Why do I want this job? I’ll find another job.’ As time progressed, I liked this job, what it does for my soul to see how many caring people of Hopkins County there are,” she explained. “I realized I was where the Lord wanted me. I’ve said all these years, ‘When you want me to retire, Lord, let me know.’ The Lord let me know this year is it. I thank first and foremost the Lord, then United Way and the County Commissioners Court and the numerous individuals who have helped Community Chest. A lot of times, I’d think ‘Lord, I know you’ve got my back but when are you sending help?’ He always does.”
“Lucy is a compassionate director, helping citizens who are less fortunate. She’s been amazing. The fact is, this wasn’t a job for her, it was a ministry,” said HCCC Board member Pat Cooper, who also is glad to call Vaden her friend.
Cooper cited Vaden’s empathy for others as a factor in HCCC’s continued successes. She has a “heart to help those who do not have enough on a daily basis with such finesse. She puts herself out there for Hopkins County.”
Hopkins County Community Chest Board of Directors Chairman RaDona Adams, who is a professional social worker, also noted Vaden’s handling of HCCC clients.
“She always treats them just like neighbors,” said Adams. “For some people, it’s very difficult to ask for help. She’s helpful and always treats them respectfully. They leave with their dignity. There’s not many people like Lucy. There’s a special place in heaven for her. She always worries we’re not doing enough to help people. The job she did, she did not do it for the money. She’s always there before 7; Community Chest doesn’t open until 8 in the morning. She’s such a sweet caring person.”
“She took the job for the heart, not the money,” said Charlotte Henderson, who worked with Vaden for about 30 years before stepping down a couple of years ago as executive secretary of Hopkins County United Way, the primary funding source for Community Chest.
“She’d do anything for anybody. She’s marvelous to work with. I can say that everything comes from the heart,” said Betty Weir, vice chair of HCCC Board of Directors.
“You have to care about people, have a love for people. I think that some of my past experiences, after I found the Lord, helped me to understand more about what people are going through,” Vaden said.
Vaden’s family hold her as and inspiration and positive example the entire family tires to emulate.
“She has instilled in all of us, the whole family, a love for God, love for community. She didn’t just tell us we’re supposed to love everybody, she showed us how to love everybody and how important it is,” said Vicki Nugent, one of Vaden’s daughters.
Nugent explained that her children and her sister’s children “all grew up coming and helping at Community Chest with her,” and more recently her great-grandchildren. They “have seen how important it is to give back to the community by helping other people and doing what you can to help others. It was the same with my sons. One volunteers now at a Dallas food bank.”
When the grandchildren visited her, especially when they were younger, she’d take them to work with her, make a pallet and let them help as they could based on their age.
“She didn’t just tell us, she has has shown us. She has been an example not only to the family, but everyone she’s been in contact with, a blessing to everyone she’s in contact with,” Nugent noted.
“I’ve been coming since I was 7,” said Kristi Brewer, Vaden’s granddaughter. “We’d spend the summer helping pack and sack up groceries. My oldest was seven and came too. The last two summers he volunteered to work when they were giving out food. All of us are that way, giving back to the community. I don’t think you really realize the impact you’ve made.”
“I enjoy serving people, working with my ‘Ninnie,’” Brewer’s daughter Braylea, said of her great-granddaughter.
“It was special to us, that she let us do it for so long, to know it’s an option. It was fun, fast-paced with so many people,” said Braylea’s older brother Spencer, noting that seeing how many people are reached at HCCC makes him want to do more to help others.
“I don’t think of myself that way,” said Vaden. “It’s the way I was brought up, just do what you can to help anybody that needs help.”
“It doesn’t matter the circumstance, Jesus loved people. He loved where he was at, and was a light to them. She taught us to be like that, to impact others by being a light for people, makes us want to follow her example,” Vaden’s granddaughter Kristi Brewer said. “She never gave up on us.”
“I’m not a saint,” Vaden said emphatically, adding that the people helped through Community Chest have blessed her as much as, if not more than, the program helps them. “It’s been very rewarding. I felt like I received more blessings from clients most of the time. We see people who need help — sometimes people facing terminal cancer. They made me feel good. They encouraged me. I wondered, ‘How can they do that in the situation they’re in?’ You don’t go home most days with bad days. Most of the time the clients are so appreciative and so hopeful, they encourage me.”
While HCCC’s clients are mostly adults, occasionally, people have to bring their children with them.
“When you hand them a bag of groceries, they make a remark about what they see in the bag — cookies or something like that— they’re real excited to see those little things we take for granted,” she said.
She learned early on though that “you can’t fix everything. You’re just able to do a little bit to help, something that means a lot, but there’s just a small amount you can do. We help with their emergency today.”
“We are proud of her. We hope she has as much fun in retirement as work,” said Vaden’s daughter, Janet Price.
“She’s done a great job at Community Chest. I love her like a sister,” said Wilma Brice, Vaden’s sister-in-law. “She’s always been there for me when I needed her. I didn’t think I’d live to see Lucy retire — I’ll be 93 years old in November.”
As for retirement, Vaden plan to stay busy, helping her family and volunteering as needed at Community Chest. But, she’s not too worried about HCCC. She feels she’s leaving Community Chest in good hands with Judy Moore, who recently began serving as its director.
“She’s a really caring person. I feel very comfortable leaving her in charge. She really cares about people. I’ll stay on until December as a consultant. I appreciate all the support I’ve had from the board, United Way, county court, all the individuals that have made it what it is today,” Vaden said.
“The hardest thing about this job is that I have to follow this woman. The easiest is that I have to follow her,” Moore said of Vaden. "She has built this organization, reached out and helped. She’s a dear friend. She’s agreed to stay on as a consultant this year. At the last [board] meeting, she asked if it’d be OK if she comes back as a volunteer. While Lucy will not be serving in the same chair, she will still be around Community Chest.”
“I hope the people who have been there for me will continue to be there for Judy and Community Chest,” said Vaden. “It’s very important to see those needs met.”
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