On Sunday, May 15, 1949—a year and a day after the founding of Israel—1,200 women driven by more than 460 male volunteer chauffeurs—fanned out across Baltimore from the Emerson Hotel to help raise money for settlers in the newly established state. The goal was for each woman to personally solicit donations from 10 families—or 12,000 homes in total.
The hugely successful effort raised $45,000 in a single day and Giving Day or G-Day, as it was known, became an annual tradition. Two years later, the G-Day volunteer base grew to 2,000 while operating out of Baltimore’s Fifth Regiment Armory.
In the 1950s, G-Day was even covered by Life magazine. “I was part of G-Day in my 20s,” recalls volunteer Tammie Plant. “People would give us $2 or $5 and it was a gift. … Ringing doorbells was a wonderful way to meet people who felt the same way I did about the commitment to the Jewish people.”
But in 1964, after 15 years of G-Day it was becoming increasingly difficult not only to recruit workers to go door to door, but also find people who would open their doors graciously to a stranger.
The Women’s Division decided to try something new—a three-week-long telephone appeal they dubbed Phone-O-Thon. The plan was for 60 women, working in three shifts between 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m., to make a total of 18,000 calls during the campaign, all from a phone bank at Reisterstown Road Plaza. Women could earn “points” for securing pledges and win prizes, such as a weekend trip at a “glamorous resort,” portable TVs or needlepoint bags. Soliciting by phone, rather than door to door proved to be the right idea for the time: the first Phone-O-Thon raised over $8,000 more than the previous G-Day.
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