Services for the poor in the early 20th century were often rooted in church organizations in most parts of North Carolina. The basic social safety nets that exist now were yet to be in those early decades, and welfare programs in many parts of the country were grassroots efforts led by a few well-intentioned humanitarians.
Captain David G. Coy and his wife were career charity workers. Their story draws from an array of local news stories in historic newspapers in and around North Carolina documenting their efforts. After years in service of the Salvation Army in multiple locations, Captain Coy came to work with the Volunteers of America – a group doing similar work to the Salvation Army – in Hickory. The Coys established a Volunteers’ Home in Hickory in 1916. The Volunteers’ Home had ten rooms that the Coys used to provide shelter for the less fortunate. Coy was able to raise the rent of the house from local churches, and fund the remainder of the expenses through community fundraising.
The Hickory Daily Record documented and celebrated the Coys’ efforts in its pages, and played an active role in promoting the charity work. Coy received a donation of a carload of coal from Mr. Otis Mouser, the vice-president of the Stonega Coke and Coal Company (Big Stone Gap, Virginia). Captain Coy convinced the city of Hickory to cover the freight cost to bring the coal to town. The Hickory Ice and Coal Company offered space for storage, and coal came to needy families in wagons owned by Mr. Eubert Lyerly.
Captain Coy had been active with the Salvation Army in Johnson City, Tennessee, as early as 1910. The Coys took leave of Johnson City for Silver City, New Mexico in the spring of 1911. “The Captain goes there for his health,” explained The Comet. They again left Tennessee for Cincinnati in 1912, but returned to Johnson City in September of that year, again taking charge of the Salvation Army’s efforts.
In Hickory, the Volunteers raised over $300 in 1916 for their Empty Stocking Fund, providing for a Christmas tree in the town, as well as 58 Christmas baskets distributed to families, each containing foodstuffs for a Christmas feast. The Hickory Daily Record supported this effort with a donation certificate run in its pages through the holiday season. Announcements came out every few days on the Daily Record’s front page, calling for more donations and praising local residents who had given a few dollars.
Captain Coy managed to gather resources to host a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. George Bradley, who had given up their children and suffered from tuberculosis. The couple received shelter in the form of a tent set up outside the Volunteers’ Home. The Hickory Daily Record ran personalized stories such as this (“Tent Is Needed For Young Married Couple,” Hickory Daily Record, January 27, 1917) to promote and draw support for the Coys’ efforts.
In 1917, just months after his Christmas season success, there was a public call for Captain Coy to abandon his efforts in Hickory. City residents discovered that Coy and a friend had spent a few days in Atlanta, and gone through around $200 of the charity funds raised from the public. The Coys later went on to work with the Volunteers of America in Jackson, Tennessee.
A charity coupon for Captain Coy’s Volunteers of America; from the Hickory Daily Record, November 25, 1916.