Nearly 75 years have passed since the first six Red Stocking Fund recipients most likely opened Donald Duck pull toys and Snoopy Sniffers instead of today’s more popular Furbys and Barbies. This year organizers Kerry Alley and Lorraine Clark are expecting the Red Stocking Fund to make Christmas dreams come true for approximately 475 children, from newborns to eighth graders.
The Red Stocking Fund is a cause that brings the whole community together. Fundraisers take place year-round, which allows Mr. Alley and Ms. Clark not only to provide Christmas gifts during the holidays, but also to provide a good meal at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Christmas, though, is the highlight.
In October, Mr. Alley and Ms. Clark began to saturate the towns on the Vineyard with Red Stocking applications at places such as schools, banks, Vineyard Health Care Access, food pantries, the Wampanoag Tribe offices and other sites. A referring professional such as a doctor, teacher or social worker who can verify the family’s circumstances must sign the application. The application also includes a wishlist, asking for the child’s size, age, weight, gender and color preferences for gifts. Children receive new pajamas, socks, underwear, mittens, and then can ask for up to three larger items such as boots, coats or snowsuits. Each child can ask for up to five toy options, too.
The process is carried out under complete anonymity with a number assigned to each child. The two organizers are the only people who know which name goes with which numbered group of gifts. They have many volunteers who shop, wrap and number the gifts. Then a week or so before Christmas, this year on Dec. 14, parents come and pick up the gifts for their children at Grace Church in Vineyard Haven.
“We couldn’t do what we do if Grace Church didn’t give us the entire building for a whole week,” Mr. Alley said. “Toys will start to arrive Dec. 10 and volunteers will wrap and number them, and the church is covered from the altar to the organ and every single pew is covered with gifts.”
The history and tradition between Grace Church and the Red Stocking Fund goes back much further than Rev. Rob Hensley’s arrival nearly seven years ago. His congregation is happy to help with the project every year.
“We’re very much a part of the community, not ‘apart’ from the community,” Rev. Hensley said. “Every inch of the church is covered practically from floor to ceiling with gifts. It keeps growing every year and if it gets much bigger we may have to find a larger location.”
Local businesses get into the holiday spirit by offering discounts or adopting families to help with Christmas gifts. Several churches and community organizations do the same. The Vineyard Harley Riders spend an afternoon before Christmas riding throughout the Vineyard collecting toys and monetary donations. This past weekend the riders collected approximately $17,000 for the Fund. Then there’s the annual Big Chili Contest sponsored by MVY Radio. Last year that event brought in more than $30,000.
“It provides for about a third of our budget,” Mr. Alley said. Money raised provides for Christmas gifts and the grocery gift cards from Stop & Shop, Cronig’s and Reliable Market that are distributed for the three major holidays during the year. This year marks the 27th annual chili cook-off, to be held on Jan. 26 at the P.A. Club in Oak Bluffs.
The two organizers said their busiest time is October through the giveaway date in December. They also said they receive donations in the summer from seasonal residents.
“The need goes up every year,” Ms. Clark said. “We have a lot of seasonal workers and a lot of people who didn’t expect to be in this position, didn’t expect it to happen to them. We have families where a member is sick or dying and this program is important to them.”
“I’ve been doing this at least 30 years or more,” Ms. Clark added, “and when I started we had under 100 kids to shop for. This year we’re going to shop for over 470.”
Mr. Alley and Ms. Clark have gotten to know many of the families over the years and said the parents are extremely grateful for the generosity they receive.
“Sometimes they are so overwhelmed when they pick up the gifts that they cry, and that really gets to you.” Mr. Alley said.”
Ms. Clark and Mr. Alley were high school classmates growing up on the Vineyard and the laughter flows easily between them. They admit that they would be happy to see some other folks begin to take over the project.
“The elves are getting old,” Mr. Alley joked. “It’s hard to find young people who have the time to do this. Ideally it would be great for someone who is newly retired.”
The Red Stocking Fund accepts donations year round and checks can be sent to Susan Wallo, the Red Stocking Fund, Box 600, Edgartown, Mass. 02539. Volunteers to shop and wrap are always welcome. Call Mr. Alley at 508-693-2324 or Ms. Clark at 508-693-0725 to find out how you can help.