The Red Stocking Fund is the Vineyard's holiday Santa. Red Stocking elves are already quietly working behind the scenes to make sure every Island child with needs has a warm and love-filled season. Last year 275 children in 173 families got a boost of holiday cheer, thanks to Red Stocking. This year the number is expected to be higher.
Kerry H. Alley of Oak Bluffs and Lorraine Clark of Vineyard Haven are again chairing the fund. They are the ringleaders in a group of spirited and generous souls whose task is nothing short of amazing. While the fund's central committee is made up of 11 people, there are dozens of Red Stocking volunteers. No one is paid for the work; there is no central office. And still, $50,000 in food and clothing is given away each year.
"It is one of the most unbureaucratic organizations. We have one meeting a year and it is in October. It is a dinner meeting in Vineyard Haven. We meet probably for half an hour, set the dates and then eat," said Mr. Alley, a retired guidance counselor from the Tisbury school who began working with the fund 12 years ago. The rest of the meetings are held over the telephone. Mr. Alley and Mrs. Clark, along with others, talk about Red Stocking Fund issues every day. Mrs. Clark has been involved for 25 years.
The names of recipients are kept private.
"Applications for the fund went out by the first of November and already we've got 100 now," Mr. Alley said this week. The deadline for applications is Dec. 8.
Application forms were dropped off at schools, banks, the Edgartown Boys' and Girls' Club, the state Department of Social Services (DSS), 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.
"We sent out forms with instructions written in both English and Portuguese. And we started getting them right away," Mr. Alley said.
Early applicants received food vouchers in time to prepare for yesterday's Thanksgiving dinner.
"We'll get a lot more applications after Thanksgiving," Mrs. Clark said.
The needs of the community are especially deep this year. Last year the Red Stocking Fund spent $27,000 on food alone and $20,000 on clothing. Apart from the money raised, there are donors who adopt families and spend money on their own. Donors and recipients do not know each other's names, but shoe sizes are exchanged.
The fund does not buy toys; but it does facilitate the giving of toys.
Mrs. Clark said as soon as donors know children's ages and clothing sizes, they start shopping. Commercial establishments on the Island, like banks and stores, adopt nameless families.
Mrs. Clark said applications are screened carefully to be certain that the need is genuine.
Barbara Silvia keeps the books for the fund. Twenty-one winters ago she was struggling to raise three children, aged seven through ten and the Red Stocking Fund made a difference in her life. She has helped the fund as a volunteer ever since. "I always said if I could give back, I would," she said.
Donald Ben David, 73, is an active volunteer with a specific task. He makes sure that at least a few Red Stocking children get a new bicycle for the holidays. Each fall he visits Island bicycle shops from Menemsha to Edgartown seeking donations. "They know I am coming," he said.
This year he has collected seven bikes. "I do it for the kids," he said.
Community support comes from businesses large and small. This year the Martha's Vineyard Harley Riders raised $19,231 for the fund, with more money still to come. In recognition of their perennial effort, the motorcycle group earned the respected Spirit of the Vineyard Award from Hospice of Martha's Vineyard. The riders received the award at a ceremony last month.
On Dec. 9, Red Stocking volunteers will sell hot chowder at the Mini Park in Edgartown. Last year the volunteers raised $1,500 for the fund.
The annual chili contest is another Red Stocking benefit event; this year it is planned for Jan. 27 at the Holy Ghost Society's Portuguese-American Club. Last year the event raised $16,000; this year organizers are hoping to net $18,000 or more. "Money raised from the chili contest starts us off for the New Year," Mrs. Clark said.
"A lot of people don't realize that we give food certificates in March," Mr. Alley added.
There have been some awkward moments for Red Stocking organizers. At times they have received checks from people who want to stipulate where the money goes. The most troubling request came from people who did not want their money going to meet a Brazilian family's needs.
"Of course we give our money to Brazilians," Mrs. Clark said. "How many people on Martha's Vineyard are descendents of Portuguese, or from any other part of the world?" she asked.
"We don't want anybody's contribution with those kinds of restrictions," Mr. Alley said.
In the end, Mrs. Clark is an eternal optimist. "People always come forward," she said. But word on the street has it that there is more need this year than last. Stories of need preceded the arrival of application forms.
Mrs. Clark and Mr. Alley would like to hear from those in need and those who want to donate. Mr. Alley can be reached at 508-693-2324 and Mrs. Clark can be reached at 508-693-0725. Checks in support of the Red Stocking Fund may be mailed to Barbara Silvia, treasurer, at P.O. Box 74, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.