Within 24 hours of the Boston Marathon bombings, then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Governor Deval Patrick launched One Fund Boston to collect donations for the bombing victims. In less than three months, donors had given an unprecedented $61 million, the largest amount yet collected for a fund of its kind.
The One Fund was a high-profile call to arms that helped rally the city, and the country, behind those who were killed or injured. The fund itself aided many people, but it is being recognized here as a symbol of the entire extraordinary community response.
Support went far beyond money. Bystanders treated wounds. A Georgia resident bought pizza for the entire emergency room staff at Boston Children’s Hospital. Homeowners hosted families of hospitalized survivors. Towns held candlelight vigils. A furniture store gave wheelchair-accessible beds. Manufacturers donated prosthetic legs. Contractors retrofitted bathrooms. A travel company took survivors on all-expense-paid cruise.
“Everybody was touched by it,” Menino said. “Everybody said, ‘How can I help?’ We got through it because we all were pulling together.”
Insurance giant John Hancock got the fund-raising started by donating $1 million to the One Fund, and other Boston businesses kicked in about $20 million more. But most of the 200,000 donations were contributed by individuals, from every state in the nation and more than 50 countries around the world.
There were lemonade stands and bake sales. An 8-year-old asked her birthday party guests to bring donations instead of gifts. The waitstaff at a Nashua deli pooled tips to send money. Elementary school students in Juneau, Alaska, collected $600.
“This thing touched more people, this Marathon incident, than anything I’ve ever seen in my life,” Menino said.
With the mayor and the governor directing every donation to one place, victim compensation superstar Kenneth Feinberg administered the payouts and gave the fund built-in credibility that added to its success.
Even after nearly $61 million was distributed to 232 families and survivors last June, the money kept on coming. More than $18 million has been donated since and will be given out this summer. Unlike most funds of its kind, which usually shut down after their initial distribution, the One Fund will continue to collect donations for survivors.
The bombing on Patriots Day, at the finish line of the most revered marathon in America, had a major impact on the country. And while the influx of money and services helped the injured, the collective outpouring of support actually did more good for the rest of us, said Feinberg, who donated his time to distribute the One Fund money.
“It could have been any one of us at that finish line,” he said. “Life and death are very serendipitous, very haphazard. And when the community rallies, it shows that although there are very important public policy issues that divide the community — education, race, class, other polarizing differences — in times of tragedy, those differences are minimized. . . . Everybody comes together for the common purpose of demonstrating cohesiveness and solidarity vis-a-vis the individual victims. It’s a great community stabilizer and character builder.”
Feinberg, who grew up in Brockton and attended the University of Massachusetts, knows what he’s talking about. He administered the funds after 9/11 and following the mass shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., a movie theater in Auroro, Colo., and Virginia Tech. And he has never seen a response like the one in Boston.
“Boston is special; the numbers point that out,” he said. “Boston is special.”