In Five Images: Bundle Day

The biggest curatorial challenge is deciding what to show people. Every image tells a story, but it’s impossible to give each image the same level of visibility. The “In Five Images” series offers a quick look at some of the things that you might have missed.

"The Bigger Your Bundle, The Bigger Your Heart!"

Orphans and adult refugees often arrived at Near East Relief stations dressed in scavenged rags. In the United States, local volunteers organized daylong campaigns to gather used clothing for shipment overseas. Bundle Day volunteers gathered sacks of sturdy clothing and shoes, which were then sorted based on gender and age. “The Bigger Your Bundle, The Bigger Your Heart” was a popular Bundle Day slogan.

"A Pound a Person"

Bundle Day committees usually included an executive from a local department store and at least one local politician. These prominent townspeople encouraged households to donate one pound of clothing per family member. Newspaper editors reminded readers that warm clothing was a matter of life and death for the “near-naked of the Near East.”

Fraternal organizations like the Knights of Columbus and the Rotary Club used their strong community ties to find volunteer laborers. Local businesses donated delivery trucks for the day to pick up bundles from people’s homes and transport them to the sorting station.

Bustling Bundle Day Stations

The Boy Scouts of America played an important role at Bundle Day stations (usually a school or fire station). Scouts answered phones, accepted bundles, sorted mountains of clothing, and performed odd jobs.

It was common to have a well-known local society woman preside over the Bundle Station to lend an air of importance to the day’s activities. Bundle Day volunteers gently reminded well-intentioned donors that formal attire and high-heeled shoes were not needed in the Near East. Sturdy shoes and boots, winter coats, thick stockings, and warm clothes were in high demand.

Flyers described Bundle Day as an excellent opportunity for housewives to rid their homes of unused clothing. Brochures proclaimed that all American clothing, no matter how old and unfashionable, was in style in the Near East.

New Homes for Old Clothes

Once the bundles arrived in the Near East, refugee women employed as seamstresses made any necessary repairs prior to distribution. Skilled workers could convert one adult garment into several children’s garments. Heavily damaged clothing could be unraveled and used to weave carpets for use or sale.

World War I and the Genocide had destroyed the textile industry and devalued currency in the Near East. Near East Relief often paid adult refugee workers in clothing and food rather than currency. While the value of money could change dramatically from one day to the next, the value of food and clothing was constant and immediate. At one point, Near East Relief even paid the rent on the orphanage buildings in Alexandropol with bales of American clothes!

Old clothing is used by Near East Relief not only to clothe refugees, but to furnish work to the refugee women who remake it and as a medium of exchange in place of money."

Organization Manual, 1925

Bundle Day tags were distributed throughout towns and cities. All bundles were shipped to Brooklyn, NY, where they were loaded onto ships bound for the Near East.