Every Christmas morning on the Island hundreds of children for whom the day would otherwise serve only as a reminder of want, tear through a heap of lovingly wrapped gifts. This owes, of course, to the prodigious efforts of Père Noel, but also to the dozens of merry-making volunteers at the Red Stocking Fund.

Mark Alan Lovewell

While other Island fund-raising efforts have floundered of late, with a new wing for this or that building going unfinished, it seems that Vineyarders’ compassion for their fellow man is constant.

“It’s such a grassroots Island tradition,” said Kerry Alley, who codirects the fund with Lorraine Clark. “Giving to it is almost an automatic thing with a lot of people.”

When Mrs. Clark’s mother died a month ago she asked that people donate to the Red Stocking in her name.

“We got over $1,000 in her memory, which I was thrilled about,” she said.

With no administrative costs and sustained only by the dedication of a handful of tireless volunteers, the fund has persevered for over 70 years since its founding during the Great Depression by the kind-hearted Harris M. Crist. In 1938 there were six children in need; in 2009 there were 376. Mr. Alley and Ms. Clark expect a similar number this year. Despite the growth in need over the years, donations have kept pace, even in a souring economy.

“Last year it was a pleasant surprise,” said Mr. Alley.

Although the fund-raising effort is already well underway, with the fund receiving its biggest contribution, $17,000 from the Harley Riders’ Toys for Tots run earlier this month, Mr. Alley said the need is ongoing, especially as hesitant new families join at the last moment.

“We always have a need for hats and gloves,” he said. “Kids are always running short of them.”

While the fund raises money to purchase food and clothing for the children, it relies on a number of local businesses and organizations to pitch in for the glitzier gifts.

“We don’t spend any of our money on toys; they’re all contributed,” Mr. Alley said. He calls John Custer, former chairman of the fishing derby and principal of the Tisbury School, his “go-to man for fishing equipment.” Every year the derby donates a wealth of fishing tackle and poles.

Kerry Alley, longtime red stocking leader, has a lot of wrapping to do. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Patricia Carlet, a former longtime librarian at the Edgartown School and Red Stocking volunteer, sees to it that every child gets at least one new book for Christmas.

“She’ll go to all the local bookstores and dog them until she gets enough,” Mr. Alley said.

For some children the need goes well beyond a lack of shiny new toys. Every year the East Chop Sleep Shop supplies a number of beds to the fund.

“Some of these kids are sleeping on the floor,” Mr. Alley said. He said the list of Island businesses that contribute is nearly endless and that the fund used to take out a full-page ad in both Island newspapers to express its gratitude, but can no longer afford to do so. Besides, he said, it is money better spent on clothing and food.

In the coming weeks the fund will raise money through its 26th annual Great Chowder Contest on the Saturday of the Christmas in Edgartown festival and then again with a chili festival in January. Having just finished its Thanksgiving food distribution, if enough money is left over from the holiday push, Mr. Alley hopes for another one in March.

“It’s a time of year that people are stripped clean from paying oil bills,” he said.

For now, though, the efforts of the fund are focused squarely on shopping, wrapping and collating gifts for the anonymous families. Although it is exhausting, especially during the Dec. 13 to 15 wrapping bonanza at Grace Church, for both Mr. Alley and Ms. Clark the joy of the Friday pickup is enough to erase the months of hectic toil necessary to pull it all off.

“[My favorite part] is seeing how happy it makes the mothers,” Ms. Clark said.

Mr. Alley agrees.

“That Friday morning when parents come in, some don’t realize, especially if it’s their first time, that they’ll really get what they asked for,” he said. “One year a woman who was new to the Island took a taxi to Grace Church and when she saw all the presents she just sat on the curb crying; she couldn’t believe it.”

The greatest joys for the volunteers, though, are the unseen ones, those intimate moments on Christmas day inside the homes of Red Stocking recipients.

“It’s always all about the kids,” Ms. Clark said. “We don’t know how the kids react. We don’t know if they say, ‘What is this stupid toy?’ But we hope we did it right.”


For more information about the Red Stocking Fund, call Kerry Alley at 508-693-2324 or Lorraine Clark at 508-693-0725. Checks in support of Red Stocking may be mailed to Barbara Silvia, Treasurer, at 67 Midland avenue, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.