Despite it all, Red Stocking's Christmas enterprise thrives
Thursday evening, December 18, was a wrap for Red Stocking volunteers at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven. In place of worshippers, bags of brightly wrapped gifts filled every pew, adorned the chancel floor, and filled the parish hall, waiting for collection the next day to make Christmas merry for 345 children in 232 Island families.
The Red Stocking Fund is Martha's Vineyard's own program to help children and families in need. Despite the grim economy, Red Stocking co-chairman Kerry Alley noted that Islanders came through again in their tradition of generosity. "It's such a part of the community - so many people make it a priority, no matter what," he said.
Although the Red Stocking board anticipated there would be more applicants this year, the numbers grew only slightly, from 334 children from 230 families last year. Mr. Alley surmised that the families Red Stocking helps were not likely affected by stock market losses. However, needs may increase next year if unemployment continues to rise, he noted.
The Red Stocking Fund spent more than $30,000 on food alone this year, and between $45,000 and $50,000 on clothing, according to treasurer Barbara Silvia. Donations remained steady and were sufficient to meet the needs of all of the applicants, Mr. Alley said.
On Monday, December 15, the Grace Church parish hall looked like the Martha's Vineyard branch of Santa's workshop. Poster boards listing children's names and wishes lined the walls.
Gail Craig and Meaghan Morris, Red Stocking Board members and Edgartown School employees, matched up toy requests from hundreds of toys, games, and stuffed animals sorted and stacked according to type and age group.
The Red Stocking purchases clothing and other necessities and depends on the community to donate toys, Ms. Craig said. This year, as in the past, Islanders and local businesses, including the Toy Box and Vineyard Electronics, donated most of the toys. Some came from the Cape Cod Toys for Tots program, donated after Christmas last year.
"We're also very grateful to Grace Church for allowing us to take it over for a week," Ms. Craig added.
The Red Stocking Fund helps Island children from infancy through grade eight. Applicants' needs are verified through schools or professionals working in public assistance and family services. School-age children must be enrolled in an Island school.
Mr. Alley, co-chairman of Red Stocking with Lorraine Clark, said children under the age of two were the largest age group this year. "We weren't prepared for that," he said. However, first-year board member Jo Weinberg cheerfully took on duties as the "Queen of Diapers," making sure there were enough for 100 children.
The Toy Box and Kiddo's came through with some last-minute donations, which also were a tremendous help, Mr. Alley said.
Red Stocking provides all of the children with a hat, mittens or gloves, pajamas, socks and underwear, as well as a food basket or gift certificate from Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs. Parents also may put in a request for three other clothing items, such as coats and boots, for example.
"We also try to give every child two books," said Ms. Carlet, who worked as Edgartown School's librarian for 30 years. For the past several years, Bunch of Grapes bookstore generously provided one book for every child.
After a fire destroyed the bookstore last summer, many in the community filled the void, Ms. Carlet said. Donations came from Edgartown School librarian Donna Lowell-Bettencourt, Edgartown Books, and collection boxes at the Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven libraries - and a lady in Hingham. Ms. Carlet said Vineyard Haven Library director Amy Ryan helped stretch Red Stocking funds by purchasing board books for infants at cost.
The Edgartown School teaching staff provides food baskets, Ms. Craig said. Each year, the school holds a sale of "gently used" toys and jewelry where students can do their holiday shopping. This year $1,300 in proceeds went towards the food baskets.
Edgartown School students and their families also contributed specific food items, as organized by classroom. "Cronig's is meeting us halfway, and covering half the cost of the food," Ms. Craig noted. "Carroll's is donating boxes."
On Thursday afternoon the Edgartown School staff put together 25 boxes of food wrapped in bright red bags topped with big red bows. Mr. Alley said the boxes would be distributed to the families with the most children, while others would receive food gift certificates.
On December 18, about 30 volunteers hustled and bustled around Grace Church, checking numbers and lists against bags of gifts for the last time before parents picked them up on Friday. Mr. Alley estimated at least 60 volunteers helped out during the week.
In addition to Christmas presents for children, the Red Stocking Fund also purchases and gives families gift certificates from Stop and Shop at Thanksgiving and Cronig's in March, when many are struggling to pay fuel bills, Mr. Alley said.
The annual Chili Contest, Chowder Contest, and Martha's Vineyard Harley Riders' "Toys for Tots" Run are the main sources of Red Stocking's income. On November 9, the Harley Riders presented a check for $14,325 to the fund.
Individuals, businesses, schools, community groups and organizations also contribute to Red Stocking efforts with donations of money, toys, and goods.