Red Stocking Fillers This Year Will Delight 270 Island Children


At the other end of the year from the sleek summer fundraising season, a grassroots charity pursues its purpose.

The Red Stocking Fund holds no auctions or celebrity fundraisers. It has no board of directors, and its managers bear no administrative titles. The core group of volunteers meets only once a year to set the date - this year, Dec. 19 - on which strained and straitened parents will receive the Island's gifts for more than 270 of its children.


Since 1938, when Mrs. Harris M. Crist first asked her friends to fill six stockings as gifts for needy children, the Red Stocking Fund has provided food, clothing and toys to the children of families in financial need. Although Red Stocking gives out food vouchers at Thanksgiving (this year $7,000 in certificates were distributed) and again in March, its big push comes for the winter holidays.

The Red Stocking Fund works hard to maintain confidentiality. Only Lorraine Clark and Kerry Alley know each person's identity. Parents provide a list of their children's most needed clothing and hoped for toys; each child is then assigned an identification number that allows volunteers to match the right gifts with the right person.

Into the Red Stocking package go three major items of clothing, like a jacket or sweater. Also: pajamas, socks, underwear and mittens. And although the organization does not buy toys, it accepts donations from other sources - and so four or five toys are included as well.

As Red Stocking closes in on its deadline, Mr. Alley said it is still in need of books and toys. A wish list will be posted at Grace Church during the gift wrapping sessions, which take place next Monday through Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Anyone looking for ideas should stop by.

Red Stocking relies on these private donations and the success of three fundraisers to operate. In November the Harley Riders hold their annual Toys for Tots run. The proceeds usually account for about one-third of the fund's budget needs - this year they raised $19,000. There's also the chowder contest, which last weekend brought in $1,200, and the chili contest in late January.

Although Ms. Clark and Mr. Alley rely on a small number of volunteers to shop for clothing and wrap gifts, the larger Red Stocking effort is an Islandwide production.

The residents at Woodside Village, for example, recently held a raffle and split the proceeds, about $1,500, between Red Stocking and two other charities. The East Chop Sleep Shop donated 12 beds. The Bunch of Grapes bookstore gave a book for every child. The kids at the Edgartown school will prepare 25 food baskets for larger families.

Ms. Clark said there are even people who ask that guests to their holiday parties bring toy donations rather than gifts for the host.

Right now many of the gifts are stored in Ms. Clark and Mr. Alley's basements. "I've even overflowed to my neighbor's house," Mr. Alley said. "That's where I've put the bikes and other big stuff."

But early next week they will bring it all to Grace Church for an exhaustive community wrapping session. That's also when volunteers will collate the gift bags. About 15 items per package, multiplied by about 275 packages. "We put them behind the altars and up and down the aisles. There's not a thing that's not covered," said Ms. Clark, who has been coordinating the Red Stocking effort for more than 30 years.

Parents will pick up the gifts Dec. 19.

"We always have a couple who break down," said Mr. Alley. "Everyone is just so appreciative. We get wonderful letters thanking us. We'll get pictures of the kids," said Ms. Clark.

"Every year there are a handful of people who are in total distress," said Mr. Alley. "I always marvel that here we are on Martha's Vineyard, and still people find themselves in such dire straits."

"People without food," says Ms. Clark. "People whose kids are sleeping on the floor."

"I had someone today who didn't know where to go," Mr. Alley added. "We don't have a central agency and people have to go hunting around humiliatingly. People think it doesn't happen here, but it does."

Anyone interested in making a donation can mail a check to Barbara Silvia, P.O. Box 74, Vineyard Haven, 02568. People wanting to drop off a toy can do so at the Martha's Vineyard Co-operative Bank or call either Mr. Alley or Ms. Clark.