Relief efforts in Hazleton organized to help Italian refugees in 1944

An enthusiastic crowd gathered on the streets of Hazleton in June 1944 under the watchful eye of Reverend Joseph Ferrese. The crowd had a mission: provide aid and assistance to Italian refugees who lost everything as a result of fighting during the Second World War.

Reverend Ferrese and the Most Precious Blood parish in Hazleton oversaw the campaign to collect clothing for those in need in Italy. They canvassed the neighborhoods of the Coal Region city in vehicles volunteered to carry the collected items.

Joseph Ferrese
Reverend Joseph Ferrese in a 1940 photograph

Ferrese called out all residents of Hazleton to pitch in to help.

“The need is great,” said Father Ferrese. “In your homes there must be some of the following items of clothing for men, women, and especially children. Give them for the distressed people of Italy. NOW!”

He explained his reasoning in an appeal published in the Hazleton Standard-Sentinel on June 6, 1944:

The appeal is made to you, the people of Hazleton, whether you are of Italian extraction or not, to you proprietors of establishments, aid this nationwide drive for clothes for Italy. America is now feeding 14 million of Italy’s children, she is ministering to over 2 million of her sick, and now she is promoting a flow of clothing from here to her shores…

Yes, give to that nation clothes for her nudity; succor her in her days of need. We owe it to her as Americans, because, without her, today perhaps there would be neither America or Americans. We owe it to her, because our invasion of her soil is not like all the previous invasions she has endured throughout the centuries.

Our American soldier has gone there, as Christ, to give and not to take. By giving to her now we assure our soldier that he can fulfill without much suffering and effusion of blood, his mission of liberation.

We owe it to her because this drive for clothing by America is the synthesis of another battle won by her. This drive definitely proclaims to the whole world that Italy is no longer an enemy nation in the eyes of America but one of those that with America are battling for Democracy and freedom. Our love for Italy at this time is therefore another way of loving and serving mankind, Give! Give!

This compassionate drive bore fruit for the cause. People gave clothes in tremendous numbers, giving new and nearly clothing. What surprised many people was that families proffered the suits and clothes of their sons who were serving with the armed forces overseas.

These efforts were among the many conducted by different immigrant communities in Northeastern Pennsylvania to support those in their native countries impacted by the horrors of the Second World War.


Featured Image: Volunteers who helped gather clothing for Italian war refugees 


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