Red Stockings Fill with Spirit Of the Season
By ALEXIS TONTI
The Gazette library seems to have files on any topic. Some are slim (Finnish prefabs, for example). Others are so fat they have spilled over into second and third envelopes. The Red Stocking file is just such a case. The envelopes are thick with clippings and creased from use. They have surprising weight in the palm of the hand.
Sifting through these stories is overwhelming, in volume and in content - the sum of so many years of so much good set to type.
The oldest paper clipping dates to October 1958 - and that's still 20 years after the first Red Stocking season. Its beginnings have become something of lore: "something to wear, something to eat and something for fun." That's what Mrs. Harris M. Crist asked her friends to fill six red stockings with as gifts for needy children in 1938.
Perhaps the biggest change since then has been the number of people helped by the fund - from six children in 1938, to 44 in 1968, to 145 by the 50th anniversary. Last year 235 children received "stockings" (now gift bags). And Red Stocking Fund co-chairman Kerry Alley estimated they'd be in the same ballpark again this year.
But otherwise, not much has changed over at Red Stocking. The fund's directors have come and gone, but its aim remains the same: to provide less fortunate children with food, clothes, books and toys. The good it does remains the same.
That regularity is part of what makes the fund special. It's evidenced year after year in letters to the editor - one asking the community for help and one thanking them for it. And sometimes from the other end, a note from someone who's been helped. After the 1990 holiday season, an anonymous writer said:
"This year has been very difficult and though I never thought it possible, on Dec. 21 I entered that sanctuary as a recipient of those brightly wrapped packages. . . . my tears could not wait. A pair of living arms were quick to enfold me. ‘It is for the kids,' she said.
"Next year I pray that I will again be in that sanctuary, this time helping. Helping in any small way to say thank you to a community which helps and loves in times of need."
Red Stocking's reliability extends beyond Christmas time, although people sometimes forget that. They recently distributed $6,000 in food vouchers for Thanksgiving, and will do the same again in March.
"It's wonderful there's support out there," said Mary Brissette of Head Start, a Community Services program that works with parents to plan for their children's physical and emotional needs. Ms. Brissette often refers families to the fund.
"If there's a medical bill, they need food, need glasses. All it takes is a phone call," she said. "Red Stocking just trusts. If it can, it will help them. That's the quiet part that I find wonderful. That they're there behind the scenes, throughout the year. You take help now and when you can, you give help. That's what it's all about. It's a circle."
But the big push is now, for the coming holidays. Red Stocking is still accepting applications, though only till the middle of next week. Once the names are in, Mr. Alley and co-chairman Lorraine Clark assign a number to each family so that confidentiality is maintained.
They're also still raising funds. This Saturday the annual chowder contest will be held at E&E Deli from noon to 2 p.m. It's sponsored by the Tisbury Business Association, and all proceeds will benefit Red Stocking. Earlier this month, the Vineyard Harley Riders raised a record $19,000 for the fund in their Toys for Tots Run.
"That gave us a huge boost," said treasurer Barbara Silvia. "Although donations have been a little slow otherwise."
In addition to monetary contributions, which are put toward food vouchers and clothing, Red Stocking accepts toys. They try to match donations with requests from kids' wish-lists.
"My cellar is so full of toys right now, I've got the furnace guy coming next week, and I don't think he'll be able to find it," said Mr. Alley.
He's served as co-chairman for seven years; before that he was a guidance counselor in the Tisbury School for 30 years, and had contact with Red Stocking by making referrals himself. He enjoys the fact that the results are immediate and visible. Even after all this time, it still moves him.
He remembers one woman who thought she would be receiving a small present for each of her children. "When she saw all that was in the bags, she sat right down on the curb and cried," he said. "That's what keeps you coming back."
The presents - toys, clothing and otherwise - will be wrapped by volunteers Dec. 10 to 12, and gift bag distribution will be Friday, Dec. 14, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Grace Church in Vineyard Haven. Contributions may be sent to the Red Stocking Fund in care of the Martha's Vineyard Co-operative Bank, P.O. Box 668, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.