Union Benevolent Association was founded in 1831 to assist the suffering poor of Philadelphia during an unusually harsh winter. The Association began offering social services, including counseling and material aid, to families all around the city, regardless of race, religion, or nationality. Assistance was provided in the form of money, food, clothing, and medicine. The Association also helped many people find employment and encouraged parents to send their children to school.
The winter of 1831-1832 was especially severe, and the harsh conditions exacerbated many Philadelphians’ frustrations with the city’s alms system. A number of citizens felt that almshouses did not administer funds properly or give to the most worthy recipients. With the help of Scotsman David Nasmith, who helped to found urban charities in many American and European cities, a group of men and women formed the Union Benevolent Association, designed to ameliorate the condition of “the worthy poor” of Philadelphia, regardless of their race, religion, or nationality.
The Union Benevolent Association’s early assistance programs included lending stoves to poor families for the winter so that they might have heat. The stove-lending program was as popular as it was helpful; it continued for more than a century. The Association also provided wood and coal to needy families. During the second half of the nineteenth century, UBA’s most promising programs were its stove/fuel plan and its job-placement efforts, which resulted in the placement of hundreds of people with employers who needed workers.
During the early twentieth century, the Union Benevolent Association continued to provide financial assistance to the city’s poor. Money given to the needy helped to pay for transportation expenses across a growing city, food, medical bills, and rent. Clothing was frequently donated as well. In addition, the Association’s workers continued to visit homes, providing moral support and helping the needy make contact with other agencies and fill out paperwork.
In May of 1958, the Union Benevolent Association changed the method by which it administered aid. Instead of giving money directly to applicants who were in need, UBA became a foundation that distributed funds to other charities that had similar missions. Today UBA provides approximately $200,000 in grants annually to organizations that serve vulnerable populations.