Seventy years ago Addie Crist and Irene Flanders sat together to sew six red cloth stockings.
They filled them mostly with necessaries but also with a ray of Christmas delight for six needy Island kids.
They didn’t call it the Red Stocking Fund and could not have known their simple act of kindness would become an extraordinary source of hope and joy for several thousand Island children and their families.
But they likely knew that service to others benefits the spirit of the giver, a feeling that asks this question: does the giver benefit as much as the receiver?
Perhaps that’s why families sign up to adopt a child so their kids can learn to give and companies forego expensive Christmas parties to help families.
That feeling has expressed itself in myriad ways over the years.
In 2001, for example, Chris Morris donated a rod and reel he had won as a junior angler in the annual striped bass and bluefish derby. Paying forward? Perhaps. This year Chris won a power boat as a grand derby winner. The connection? Chris’s dad Steve has been a constant participant in Red Stocking giving over many years.
The Red Stocking Fund is expected to reach 300 children and their families this holiday season.
The mission is the same as the first year: provide something to eat, something to wear and something for fun. Recipients are always anonymous, identified by age, gender and an assigned number.
But fund cochairman Lorraine Clark is a little worried. “I think we’re going to be short on toys this year. Kerry and I each have 100 kids now and it’s busier than last year with several weeks still to go for registration,” she said. The fund does not buy toys but it does accept new toys as donations.
Toy donors may call Ms. Clark at 508-693-0725 or Mr. Alley at 508-693-2324 until Dec. 2. After that date, donations may be dropped off during the day directly at Grace Episcopal Church on Woodlawn avenue in Vineyard Haven.
Toys may also be dropped off at Vineyard Insurance Group on State Road in Vineyard Haven, and at various Red Stocking Fund boxes around the Island.
Checks in support of the Red Stocking Fund may be mailed to treasurer Barbara Silvia at P.O. Box 74, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.
Application forms for Red Stocking recipients are available at schools, banks, the Edgartown Boys’ and Girls’ Club, the state Department of Social Services, Wampanoag tribal headquarters and other places. Parents and relatives of children fill out the forms and send them in the mail to either Mr. Alley or Mrs. Clark. Applications are screened carefully to be certain that the need is genuine.
Application form instructions are written in English and Portuguese. Maria Mouzinho, a staffer at the Health Access Program at the Health Care Access program in Oak Bluffs helps with interpreting and verifying applicant needs for the growing Brazilian community
“They are part of our community and have verified needs which we can serve,” Mr. Alley said.
Early applicants received food vouchers in time to prepare for yesterday’s Thanksgiving dinner.
Additional food vouchers will be distributed before the holidays and a third wave of vouchers will be delivered in February if funds allow. “February is a tough time of year. We usually have some money left by then,” Mr. Alley said.
Part of the miracle of Red Stocking is that it happens at all. As Mr. Alley explains the process, volunteer shoppers hit Island stores armed with verified requests that include gender and clothing size information.
Each child receives socks, underwear pajamas, gloves and hats and a wish list of three major clothing articles such as jackets, boots and snowsuits and a toy. Bunch of Grapes donates a book for each child, based on gender and age.
“Really, this is an act of faith,” Mr. Alley said, adding: “Volunteers begin shopping in November, long before we know how much money we’ll have.” In addition to individual and corporate giving, the annual Chowder Festival and the Big Chili Contest in January provide more than half the fund’s $65,000 budget.
This year, the Chowder Festival is held from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8 in Main street in Edgartown as part of the Christmas in Edgartown weekend. The Big Chili Contest will be held in late January.
But as it has for decades, on the day before Christmas, the trucks and cars will begin arriving at Grace Church, delivering Red Stocking gifts. They will come from Brickman’s and Basics, which have been wrapping and storing purchased gifts, one by one, for more than a month. They will come from companies and from Islander attics and basements and they will fill the church, the pews and sacristy to overflowing.
And then the volunteers will sort and arrange somehow as they always do and later that day families will stop by for the ray of hope lit for them 70 years ago by one resident and her friend.
Mrs. Crist died on Dec. 26, 1964, the day after her kids got their red stockings.