In 1938 a group of Island women came together to knit six red stockings, fill those stocking with gifts and distribute them to six families in need just in time for Christmas.

Eighty-one years later those six stocking have expanded to five garages, the group of women has become a fleet of volunteers, and the Red Stocking Fund, as it is now called, gives gifts to over 300 children each holiday season.

But the mission remains the same.

“The belief then was that every child should have something to eat, wear and play with come Christmas time,” said former co-chairman Kerry Alley. “Besides the amount of kids we are able to help, it hasn’t much changed.”

On Wednesday Mr. Alley sat alongside his wife Patricia Alley and current co-chairman Susie Wallo in his Oak Bluffs home, which was filled from the basement to the garage with hats, mittens, grocery gift cards and enough toys to give Santa’s sleigh a healthy dose of competition. And Mr. Alley’s house is just one of five homes filled with gifts, including a large storage unit at the airport.

Making sure all Island children have a happy holiday. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“It’s getting to be crunch time,” Mrs. Alley said. “This is when all the moving pieces come together.”

Starting in October, Red Stocking Fund volunteers began circulating both English and Portuguese applications at schools, banks, food pantries, tribal housing and community services. Parents of children up to eighth grade are urged to apply. The process is carried out anonymously, with a number assigned to each child.

Once the applications have been transcribed onto index cards, pink for girls and blue for boys, listing the child’s age, size and up to three larger items such as boots or coats, the volunteers fall into formation.

The generosity is Island-wide. Families sponsor individual children, Island stores such as Brickman’s and Basics donate clothes, town fire and ambulance departments “stuff-an-ambulance” with gifts, the MV Quilt Squad stitches two full boxes of quilts, Harley Davidson riders help collect the toys during a day-long ride, and many more helping hands work behind the scenes like elves in Santa’s workshop.

But the former and current co-chairmen were hesitant to accept the title of Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Instead, they deflected credit to the Island community.

“It’s hard to escape poverty and break the cycle without a helping hand from the community,” Ms. Wallo said. “People don’t often ask for help. But our message is to tell people, if you need help, it’s there.”

All agreed that poverty has long been a problem on the Island. Mr. and Mrs. Alley have witnessed it first hand in their over 30 years in the school system.

“Poverty is a problem people don’t often see,” Ms. Wallo said.

“But you can see it, if you look at all the kids without jackets and hats in the school,” Mr. Alley added.

“People don’t realize that some of our kids who are going to be receiving gifts don’t even have a permanent place to live,” Ms. Wallo said.

They both said that the winter months are the hardest part of living on the Island, especially for seasonal workers and newly arriving immigrant families. But the goal is not to give handouts, but rather to help struggling families celebrate the holidays.

And once the families have “graduated” from the Red Stocking Fund, Ms. Wallo said many return as volunteers — turning the cycle of poverty into a cycle of both giving and receiving.

The early December day was the calm before the storm, or blizzard rather, Mr. Alley said, before all of the toys, hats, scarves, mittens, bicycles, pajamas, sweaters and much more are delivered to the basement of St. Augustine Church in Vineyard Haven. There they will be wrapped and then on Dec. 13 handed out to families, ensuring that Christmas dreams do come true all over the Island.

The Red Stocking Fund accepts donations year-round and checks can be sent to the Red Stocking Fund, Box 600, Edgartown, Mass. 02539. Volunteers to shop and wrap are always welcome. Contact Susie Wallo at 508-776-6050 for more information about how to help.