The 100 Club offers monetary aid to fallen and injured first responders
In 1952, after the fatal shooting of a young Detroit police officer, William M. Packer—a civilian who happened to be one of the largest Pontiac dealers in the world—began a letter campaign encouraging 100 of his friends to donate $100 each to a fund created for the fallen officer’s family. After a successful fundraising campaign, Packer and the police commissioner met with the fallen officer’s pregnant widow and arranged to pay off her mortgage and remaining bills, set up a college fund for her unborn child, and offer her an additional cushion of $7,000.
For Packer, the letter-writing campaign was a successful experiment he intended to repeat. For the young widow, the gift was a saving grace that brought her a bit of comfort during a time of grief. And for the rest of nation, the campaign was a powerful example of the positive social impact that can result when folks unite for a common cause. Thus, The 100 Club was born.
Today, 27 clubs are active across the United States, including 19 based in Texas, and provide immediate monetary assistance to critically injured first responders and to the families of first responders who were killed while on duty. The 100 Club of Central Texas, organized in 1983, serves six counties—Bastrop, Bell, Hays, Caldwell, Travis, and Williamson County—and is second largest in the country, eclipsed only by the Houston, Texas, 100 Club, founded in 1953, and the Arizona 100 Club, which serves the entire state of Arizona.
Though the 100 Club of Central Texas initially served Travis County law enforcement and surviving families, a board vote in 2003 expanded the club’s mission to include five counties and serve the EMS and fire departments; in 2015, they incorporated a sixth Central Texas county, Bell.
“Often, when a tragedy occurs, there’s a family that has lost a primary caregiver, and it takes time before the federal government, or the state or life insurance policies, or anything kicks in,” says retired Georgetown firefighter Don Jansen. “The 100 Club will help out in the beginning and give some funds to these people so necessities such as utilities will be paid, rent can be paid, and food can be purchased.”
“Some people think, ‘Oh, well, they get benefits. Why are you giving them money?’ says Tami Baker, chair of The 100 Club of Central Texas board and wife of Police Commander Donald Baker. “But it takes months for those benefits to kick in, and by that time you could be behind on house payments and car payments.”
When a first responder is killed in the line of duty, The 100 Club will arrive within 24 to 48 hours to present the first responder’s surviving family with a check. The 100 Club also gives checks to first responders who were injured while on duty.
“We do not care how they spend that money,” says Tami. “It’s for them. No stipulations. Perhaps now they won’t have to worry about how to afford the funeral or how to pay to fly people in. Whatever they need, we make sure they have immediate funds.”
In addition to providing monetary relief to first responders and their families during times of tragedy, The 100 Club started a grant program to pay for ballistic vests—potentially life-saving-equipment—for officers of smaller police departments.
“Austin has the funds for the fire department, the police department, the EMS—they have the funds to go out there and purchase the equipment they need,” says Tami. “But our smaller departments and municipalities don’t have the funds or the ability to do so. And so, I would rather see us spend $1,000 on a vest that potentially could prevent tragedy than to send $10,000 to a grieving widow.”
Tami, whose husband serves as commander of the Austin Police Department, has seen her share of tragedy. In 1995, Drew Bolan, an Austin police officer and close family friend, was killed instantly while directing traffic on I-35 when a drunk driver ran into him. “The next day, we were at his parents’ house, and that’s when The 100 Club came in and presented the check to his family,” she recalls. “I knew then that I wanted to be part of the organization.”
Over the years, The 100 Club has presented more checks than Tami would care to count. But while each story is riddled with heartache, Tami views her work as an opportunity to say “thank you” and show her support to those first responders who have given their lives to protect and serve.
“I’ve been at the receiving end of a phone call when my husband can hardly speak, he’s crying so hard because a friend has been killed. So to be able to give back and be there in their time of need—because these first responders are there for us in our time of need—well, it’s humbling,” says Tami. “We cannot take the pain of losing a loved one away, but we can take one small burden off their shoulders.”
Learn more about The 100 Club’s work in Central Texas at 100clubcentex.com.