By Bjorn Skaptason, Tom's Town Historian
KANSAS CITY, MO, 1938: – Boss Tom was determined that the Machine would continue the tradition of philanthropy established by Big Jim Pendergast when he was alderman of the West Bottoms, and the distribution of five-spots to hobo voters on election day wasn’t the Machine’s only charitable endeavor.
In fact, the Machine established a parallel social service system that competed with government efforts to help the poor. Tom thought his system was better. One of the few times the Boss spoke on the record, he told reporters “My organization, all by its self sees to it that not a family goes hungry in the city. Every single one of my ward workers has a fund to buy coal, shoes, and clothing for the poverty-stricken. When a poor man comes to old Tom’s boys for help, we don’t make investigations like all these city charities. We feed ‘em – and we vote ‘em!”
Each Christmas Tom gave a holiday dinner for the poor. By 1937, the Machine had been doing so for over forty years under Big Jim and Boss Tom. That year the Boss served over 3,000 pounds of turkey to over 7,000 hungry people. His lieutenant, Cas Welch, hosted regular “poor parties” in African American neighborhoods to extend the Machine’s hand of charity across the color line. The fact that most of those neighborhoods were located squarely in Joe Shannon’s Rabbit turf, thus poaching voters from Tom’s chief rival, was surely a happy coincidence of that philanthropy.
The Machine could have a heart of gold, just as long as it lined the Boss Tom’s pockets with silver!