It’s that time of the year when charity golf tournaments are sprouting like dandelions. They are an excellent way to raise money for selected causes and charities . . . and the participants have fun.

But there is a charitable foundation in Plymouth that has never sponsored a golf tournament – and probably never will. What’s more, I would wager that 80 percent of Plymouth residents are unaware of its existence. But maybe you should be.

The foundation is the Plymouth Fragment Society, and it has served Plymouth for 206 years. The members of the Society are the ultimate ninjas of giving in Plymouth.

The story began when a young Swede named Marie de Verdier met and married Lothrop Turner, a Plymouth native and sea captain, during his voyage to Copenhagen in 1812. The Turners attempted to return to Plymouth, but their passage was delayed when their ship was interned in Sweden due to the War of 1812. It’s believed that the Turners eventually returned to Plymouth by 1815 and made their home on Leyden Street. (The building is gone but it originally was located just in front of the First House.)

When they arrived in Plymouth, economic hardships were commonplace due to the War of 1812, as well as the earlier Embargo Act of 1807. Seeing a need, de Verdier rallied townsfolk to provide for those among their fellow citizens who were suffering. As the movement grew, the foundation was formally established on February 13, 1818. They chose their name, according to Pilgrim Hall Notes, “from the New Testament story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes: after feeding five thousand people, Jesus told his disciples to gather up the fragments that remained that nothing be lost.”

The society collected scarps or fragments of cloth to be remade into garments for those in need. It was from these humble beginnings that the legacy of the Fragment Society still exists and provides help today.

Making clothing eventually led to donations of shoes and bedding; subsequently aid was sometimes provided for food, milk, rent and utilities. All of this was done on the condition of anonymity. The Society assisted many Plymouth residents during the Influenza pandemic of 1918 as well as during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

I first became aware of the Fragment Society in the 1990s. As a member of First Parish Church, I found that several of my fellow churchgoers were involved in the Society. Collections were sometimes donated to the cause. (A percentage of collection plate donations at First Parish fund charities and organizations on a rotating basis.)

Fast forward to today, I decided to check in with this amazing group of folks. I had the opportunity to meet with Society President Joyce Ashley and Vice President Kim Savery. Kim’s family and mine have been connected for years so I anticipated our conversation going off track and taking way more time than I allocated – and it did!

The Society’s assistance to those in need in Plymouth is still done anonymously. Requests for food, clothing, housing, and utilities top the list. What is different from the past, however, is the process for requesting assistance.

The Society recently established a website. Until the creation of the website, requests were usually channeled through churches, school guidance counselors, and school nurses. The 13-member board meets once a month to review applications. The process is arduous and can often last hours before one or more applicants are selected. Assistance is never cash. If an applicant is requesting rent assistance, the society will pay the landlord directly. In some cases, the society has purchased appliances, assisted with car repairs, and provided gift cards for food.

Request for assistance is a one-time event and only in very rare occasions is a second request honored. Applicants are encouraged to tell their story in their application. “How did you get to this place?” is a common question asked of applicants. If an applicant can be better served by other agencies or resources available elsewhere, a referral will be made.

The money to fulfill the requests comes from the interest accrued in investment accounts owned and managed by the Society. In addition, funds are derived from membership and occasional donations. Funds also came from the 2012 sale of the Ryder Home.

 The Ryder Home, at 54 Russell St., was constructed in 1809 by Job Ryder. Upon Ryder’s death the home passed to his daughter Rebecca. Years later Rebecca turned her home into a residence for the elderly and in 1891, upon her death, left the home to the Fragment Society. As a home to single elderly women, it was one of the few houses that survived the urban renewal clearance of the neighborhood in the 1960s. When the last resident died, the home was sold and converted to a conventional apartment building.

The main mission of the Fragment Society has never wavered and continues strong today. As they say, when one door closes another one opens. Society members are now looking to expand their services in other ways. Instead of paying a plumber or mechanic, for example, perhaps the trades could donate or discount their services directly so more needs could be fulfilled. It’s an idea that is being explored.

Harvard professor, author, and minister Peter Gomes spoke of receiving eyeglasses through the Fragment Society long before he rose to international prominence. Gomes was raised in Plymouth and kept a home here until his death in 2011.

Lastly, there’s always the hope that a recipient will someday pay it forward. In a rare case of broken anonymity, one of Plymouth’s most famous residents was a recipient of a gift from the Fragment Society. The Rev. Peter Gomes (1942-2011) was gifted a pair of eyeglasses. Gomes was never shy in telling the story and the work the Fragment Society did for him and others.

Looking to know more? The Fragment Society’s website can be found here. Consider donating or joining the Society with a lifetime membership of only $50. Multiple generations of Plymouth families have been members. It could be your chance to become part of a 200-year legacy.

Architect Bill Fornaciari, a nearly lifelong resident of Plymouth, is the owner of BF Architects in Plymouth. His firm specializes in residential work and historic preservation. Have a question or idea for this column? Email Bill at

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