'Tis the season: Red Stocking Fund begins
With a magician-like sweep of his arm, Kerry Alley gestures around the pews in Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven. "Imagine all this space, from here to the altar, every flat surface, totally covered with toys," he exclaims.
Mr. Alley looks at his long-time working partner, Lorraine Clark, and grins. He has just referred to her as the "ringleader."
Ms. Clark grins back at him. "That's the spirit of Christmas right here," she says, settling into a pew next to Mr. Alley.
This weekend is the start of the Red Stocking Fund campaign. On Sunday, after a send-off at the Portuguese American Club in Oak Bluffs, the Martha's Vineyard Harley Riders will tour Martha's Vineyard collecting toys and donations. At noon, greeted by cheers and applause, they will return to Oak Bluffs with the contributions.
Martha's Vineyard's Red Stocking Fund began almost inadvertently more than 70 years ago as a result of the generous holiday instincts of Islanders Addie Crist and Irene Flanders. Last year, the fund served 370 children from more than 165 families during the holiday season, providing new toys, new books from preschool to middle school (a need not being fulfilled this year by Bunch of Grapes) warm clothes, and food (also provided to approved applicants in Thanksgiving and again in March). This year, with the economy in crisis, the need is expected to be even greater.
"I put 400 applications around Martha's Vineyard," says Mr. Alley, "and we start accepting applications on November 1st, but I already had four kids by Halloween."
Ms. Clark agrees. "In the last 10 or 12 years the number of children we serve has really grown. And folks have to understand, we have no budget, it's all on faith. We never know how much we're going to have. When the receipts start coming in we hope the money is in the bank. One year, when I'd first gotten involved, we didn't have the money, and six men in the community came forward and paid for everything. But that was the last time we didn't have enough money."
"Somehow," says Mr. Alley, shaking his head, "it always seems to work out."
"This Island," Lorraine Clark says emphatically, " they want to help their kids." Ms. Clark has been involved since the early 1980s, when a friend, Joan Merry, needed help shopping for toys and clothes for the fund. "I started helping her shop and before you know it she was gone and I'm here," Ms. Clark says. "She wanted to retire, and asked who could help out and I thought of Kerry. We go all the way back to high school."
The two Island natives admit they work year-round on Red Stocking, but insist that it's not hard. Their strong feelings for the children, the cause and the work, are well ingrained.
"We were not brought up in the richest of homes, so I guess my motivation comes from being brought up poor," Ms. Clark says. "My mother would die if she heard me say it, but we should have gotten the Red Stocking Fund growing up. I understand the need."
Mr. Alley worked as a guidance counselor at the Tisbury school. He witnessed kids struggling with not having basic needs met, and felt he could not just retire. "I had to do something."
Ms. Clark and Mr. Alley agree that there are some misconceptions about need on Martha's Vineyard.
"There are still a lot of people that think that nobody out here is poor," Ms. Clark says. "Well, they have not been down some of the roads that are out there. Not everybody who gets the Red Stocking Fund is desperate... but we have families in this community whose need is desperate."
Mr. Alley says, "There are certainly families that don't have enough to eat. And in terms of this year, these are tough economic times - we heard from Wanda Moreis at the Department of Children and Families the other day that all their funding has been cut back for emergency food and fuel."
"Another thing that people need to understand is that when you give something to the Red Stocking Fund, you're giving it for the children," Ms. Clark says. "It doesn't matter whether you approve of or like the fathers and mothers. We're helping kids."
Mr. Alley mentions some reactions he has been made aware of about helping the Brazilian families in need: "Some people on Martha's Vineyard said we shouldn't deal at all with that part of the population. We decided we would be proactive, and speak to this problem head-on. The Brazilian population is an integral part of the community. If a family, any family, applies and we verify the need, then the fund will help them."
The Red Stocking Fund verifies each family's need through schools, or professionals working in public assistance and family services. People such as Maria Mouzinho and Sarah Kuh of Vineyard Health Care Access verify applications and enable the fund to work with a wide community.
Adamant about confidentiality, the fund codes each application with a number, so no volunteer or contributor sees names or any other identifying information.
This year, in addition to needing volunteers, the fund needs donations of all sorts; cash donations, new toys, hats, mittens, art supplies, sports equipment, diapers, and blankets. Before the store's fire, Bunch of Grapes provided new books. This year, contributions of new books, from preschool to middle school, are urgently needed. The fund does not accept toy guns or swords or used toys.
When asked if they have any plans of retiring from the fund, Ms. Clark and Mr. Alley chuckle and elbow each other. "When the time is right we'll let it go," Ms. Clark says.
Mr. Alley adds, "But when we do, we're going together."Applications are available at locations around Martha's Vineyard and are accepted through early December.
To donate to the Red Stocking Fund, contact Lorraine Clark, 508-693-0725 or Kerry Alley, 508-693-2324. Check should be made out to Red Stocking Fund, and mailed to: Barbara Silvia, PO Box 74, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.
To volunteer contact Patricia Carlet, 508-693-3187.
Elissa Lash is a freelance writer living in Vineyard Haven.