Essay: Red Stocking Fund – a mission of unmixed caring for children

Essay: Red Stocking Fund – a mission of unmixed caring for children

Last Friday, after weeks of shopping, wrapping, packing, and fundraising, Red Stocking joyfully distributed clothing, food, and toys to 419 Vineyard children from 274 families. This represented an increase of 43 children over last year. We anticipated this additional need due to the current economy, and thankfully we were able to meet it, only because of the tremendous generosity of our faithful supporters — Vineyarders, off-Islanders, individuals, businesses, organizations, churches, schools etc.

Since we’ve had to spend time and energy this year contending with some unpleasant sentiments in a small but vocal segment of the community, we thought that it would be wise to clarify our mission. A few years ago, Red Stocking made a very conscious decision to care for children in need, regardless of the decisions made by the parents of these children. We have chosen to never “visit the sins of the parents upon the child.”

We cannot — and the children certainly cannot — control parental actions. It is not the parent but the child who is shivering on the playground because he has no winter coat. It is not the parent but the child who is trying to learn while sitting at his desk with wet feet because he has no winter boots. It is not the parent but the child who is watching his friends enjoy the snow because he has no hat or mittens nor a sled.

Perhaps we could better inform the public of our application process. The needs of all our recipients are checked in several ways. Our application clearly states “You must list a professional person who can verify your need: this may be a social worker, doctor, teacher, school nurse, guidance counselor, lawyer, welfare worker, etc. A friend or Red Stocking committee member will not suffice. This is absolutely necessary. We will check with your reference and with the school guidance office, if we have questions about your eligibility. If you receive any government subsidy such as welfare, AFDC, WIC, housing or fuel assistance, food stamps, or Mass Health, then you may apply. You are not eligible if you are only looking for extra presents for your children.”

School secretaries hear from us often, as we are being sure that school-age children are enrolled in Vineyard schools. The invaluably helpful personnel at the Vineyard Health Care Access office are accustomed to our daily visits with applications in hand. We sincerely invite anyone to simply call us, and we will be more than happy to sit down with you face‑to‑face and give you the facts surrounding our application process.

Perhaps this would diminish the “somebody told me… I heard that … people are being imported from Falmouth to get presents… toys are being shipped to Brazil …” These are a few of the comments that we have tried to combat. We cannot do it effectively when the commentators are choosing to be anonymous. We would love to sit down with them.

It is also distressing when we hear “we would like to help out but only for children from long-established Island families.” Clearly this is “code” for no Brazilians. The little Brazilian boy or girl gets just as cold and wet in January as the boy or girl from the long-established Island family. The following is excerpted from the old Martha’s Vineyard Herald newspaper:

“The town is filling up with Portuguese, who are buying little tracts of land in the suburbs where they get up little homes and rear big families of children. They are crowding out all other laboring classes.”

This was printed in June 1882. While we have certainly made progress on this front, it is obvious that the journey is not yet complete.

So what keeps us going? It is seeing the school nurse bring us pants and shirt that she purchased for one of her very needy students and wanted us to anonymously include with our clothing because she worried that he needed more. It is being asked by personnel in our dentist’s office what Red Stocking was all about and who, upon being told, simply replied “give us three children, and we will provide for all their needs.” It is seeing the children from the Montessori School march into town one very cold morning to purchase gifts and deliver them to us at Grace Church. It is watching one of our board members with a two-week old new hip insist on getting to Grace Church to supervise the sorting and packing of close to 8,000 individually numbered items. It is seeing a parent arrive with her two teenage children who shopped, wrapped, and personally delivered their contributions to us. It is seeing the MVRHS boys’ hockey team adopt an eight-year-old and buy whatever he needed and have a ball doing it.

We could go on and on and on because these stories represent by far the majority of Vineyarders and their caring spirit. To all of them and to all of our invaluable shoppers, volunteers, vendors, and contributors, we thank you on behalf of the 419 children that we have served this year. To borrow from the eloquent and timely editorial in last week’s Gazette, you have all joined us “on the side of the angels.”

The writers are co-chairmen of the Red Stocking Fund.