During the Great Depression of the 1930s, two Island women gathered a group together to knit stockings and fill them with toys for some of the community’s less fortunate families. They wanted to ensure that every child on the Vineyard would wake up on Christmas Day to gifts from Santa.
Nearly a century later, the tradition has continued thanks to the Red Stocking Fund’s unbroken line of volunteers dedicated to the original mission. Every year, the grassroots organization raises thousands of dollars for holiday meals and winter clothing, and collects donations in the form of new toys and books to be distributed to families throughout the Island.
The Red Stocking relies 100 percent on help from the community, ranging from
fundraising events to sponsoring groups to individual contributions. Some people show their support by making monetary contributions of as little as $5 or $10, or donating inexpensive gifts such as jump ropes, card games, or Play-Doh.
“They’re going to get more than they give,” says Red Stocking co-chair Susie Wallo. “Whatever they spend, they’ll get much more in return knowing what they’re doing for someone else. It’s wonderful. That’s what it should really be about: the joy of giving.”
Although most people associate Red Stocking with toy distribution, the organization is equally dedicated to providing essentials for families in need. Ms. Wallo explains the mission of the organization: “Our charter says that the Red Stocking Fund supplies food and clothing to needy children on Martha’s Vineyard.”
Therefore, all of the money raised through fundraising events is earmarked for providing food vouchers to families at Thanksgiving and in early spring, and for purchasing clothing gifts for kids at Christmastime.
It’s really the community at large that the Red Stocking depends upon for providing toys for all of the kids on their list. On Sunday, Nov. 13, the Martha’s Vineyard Harley Riders did their part. Every year they organize a Red Stocking run, riding all around the Island collecting donations in the form of checks and toys. Last year, the group managed to raise more than $13,000. This year, the Harley Riders dedicated the run to club member Donald Ben David, who died in March.
There are numerous other ways to make toy or book donations. On Saturday Dec. 3 from 10 am to 4 pm, the Oak Bluffs Fire and EMS Station is once again hosting their Stuff an Ambulance event. People can help fill an ambulance and bus with new, unwrapped toys.
To donate to the toy drive, as opposed to the general food and clothing fund, you must make a notation in the memo line of the check. You can choose to contribute to specific categories such as books or art supplies, or simply write “for toys.” Ms. Wallo notes that all children are given at least one book and one arts and crafts item. “There’s nothing more wonderful to a kid than a brand-new box of Crayola crayons,” she says.
Recipients needed to have applied by Nov. 19 to be included in the Red Stocking distribution. Parents were asked to specify which clothing items were most needed, and include a wish list of one or two toys for each child. Volunteers sort through the donations to try to ensure that each kid gets at least one of their requests to Santa. Perpetually topping the list of desired gifts is bikes. Other much-desired items include sleds and snow rings. “They just want to do things other kids do,” Ms. Wallo says.
Each kid gets pajamas, underwear, socks, a hat, and mittens or gloves. Winter coats, snow pants, and sneakers are some of the things parents ask for as additional clothing items.
As for the toys, Ms. Wallo says, “Kids are pretty easy. Some just want a doll. Legos
are always popular.” One little girl asked only for a pink softball. In some cases, practical items are what families really need: “We’ve had parents tell us, ‘The clothes are enough. We don’t need any toys, but could we have a backpack, or sheets and a blanket?’”
Another great way to get involved is to sponsor a child. Each sponsor is given a list of clothing items and a toy wish list for an individual child (the recipients are kept anonymous — just identified by age and gender). The sponsor can provide elf duties by shopping for the child on his or her own.
“What we are finding so wonderful is that more and more people are signing up to sponsor children,” Ms. Wallo says. She notes that book groups and businesses often step up to sponsor a child or siblings.
Sponsorship has become a family tradition with some Islanders. “People are tired of all of the commercialism of Christmas, and they really want their children to understand what the holidays are all about,” says Ms. Wallo. “We have people who, instead of exchanging presents, either give a check or have a holiday party where everyone brings a toy or a book. This Island is absolutely amazing in the way that the community really wants to reach out and help other people.”
As the novelist and social reformer Charles Dickens wrote of Scrooge in the final few lines of “A Christmas Carol,” “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”