Island community rallies for family in need

Vast amount of donations is a Christmas miracle for grandmother taking in her grandsons.


Updated 12/21

In the case of Carole Vandal and her two grandchildren, the Christmas miracle came a few days before the holiday.

Ms. Vandal, an Island native and part of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), decided to take in her grandchildren — two boys — after her daughter became unable to care for them. “The kids’ parents were having health problems and issues,” Ms. Vandal said. “This was the time for me to reach out.”

Ms. Vandal used to work as a teacher and principal. She is retired and disabled, but is more than happy to take the two boys into her home. “They need some consistency, and someone to be with them more often,” she said. “Kids need more time with adults than society is allowing these days.”

Though Ms. Vandal was happy about the prospect of the boys coming to her home, it wasn’t simple. Being on a fixed income, she didn’t know how she would afford the boys’ trip to the Island, since they are coming all the way from their current home in Hawaii.

After deciding to take the kids in, Ms. Vandal visited her childhood friend Lori Fisher. The two have known each other since they were in kindergarten together. While listening to her friend’s difficult situation, Ms. Fisher had an idea and a simple question: “You mind if I do something and help out a little bit?”

Ms. Fisher is the administrator of Islanders Talk, a Facebook page she started for Islanders to chat about Island issues, post pictures, and help fellow Islanders out in a pinch.

Not expecting much to come of it, Ms. Vandal welcomed the support from her friend. “Who knew it would turn into a Hallmark moment?” she said.

Ms. Fisher posted a brief message on the Islanders Talk page asking for a few donations for the two boys so they would have something to open on Christmas Day. She included a short list of things the kids asked for on their Christmas lists.

What came next was nothing short of a miracle.

People from both on and off-Island began messaging Ms. Fisher with all sorts of donations. Winter coats, sneakers, boots, pants, shirts, two bicycles with helmets, fishing rods, a bow and arrow set, magic kit, croquet set, microscope, and drone, all brand-new, were among the many gifts donated for the kids. Meanwhile, messages are still pouring in on Ms. Fisher’s original post.

“All they have are clothes for Hawaii,” an emotional Ms. Vandal said. “They asked for shoe sizes and I said I don’t know, all they have are flip-flops,” she added with a laugh.

Matt Hayden, an Islander who teaches kids outdoor survival skills, offered hunting and fishing lessons for the boys. If the kids decide to play sports, all equipment costs are covered by donors as well. Trader Fred’s in Edgartown is meeting with Ms. Fisher to get her more clothes suited to the New England climate for the boys.

One generous donor called Ms. Fisher and had Amazon Prime up on his computer, ready to order whatever the kids needed. With plenty of toy donations, Ms. Fisher asked for warm clothing. Next thing she knew, jackets, hoodies, and pants started showing up at her door.

Donations have been coming from more than just Island residents. “A lot of off-island people donate,” Ms. Fisher said, despite the mostly Island-exclusive membership of the page. “I knew it would be good, but I didn’t expect this.”

Ms. Fisher also opened up monetary donations on the Islanders Talk Benevolent Fund to try and raise money to pay for the kids’ flights to Boston. “We tried to figure out how to get them here, we just needed help with the airfare,” Ms. Fisher said.

Ms. Vandal and Ms. Fisher couldn’t believe the support they received. “Donations just started coming in,” Ms. Fisher said.

One man got in contact with Ms. Fisher and offered to give his air miles to pay for the plane tickets. Unfortunately, the two airlines out of Hawaii didn’t accept them. But Cape Air did come through with tickets to the Island from Boston’s Logan Airport.

“I started crying,” Ms. Fisher said. “It’s amazing.”

“When she tells me about it I get teary-eyed,” Ms. Vandal said, her eyes watering. “This is such a blessing this happened, because this is where I’m from. This is where our ancestors are. For these boys to come home to be amongst the Wampanoag people is something that they need and something they’ve been lacking.”

The boys have visited the Island before, and are excited about their new home, she said. “They love Grandma and I love them,” Ms. Vandal said.

While the two boys know they are flying across an ocean and a country to live with their grandma, they have no idea about all the presents they will be opening on Christmas Day.

“They’re going to be busy,” Ms. Fisher said with a smile while looking at her toy-filled living room. “Carole’s going to need a bigger house for all this stuff.”

“I will,” she replied, laughing.

In addition to all the gifts and donations, the family will also be treated to a holiday meal whipped up by a gourmet chef.

Ms. Vandal is touched by the Island’s generosity. “I just want to thank people for being [so]  gracious and giving in this time of the year, when we need that help,” she said. “I’m usually pretty independent, so it’s hard for me to accept all this. I’m just so grateful, I have so much gratitude for our community. Our community reaches beyond the Island. People that are not here are still giving.”

Anyone looking to contribute should contact Lori Fisher on the Islanders Talk Facebook page, or go to the Islanders Talk Benevolent Fund page. Any donations for the boys should be posted with the message “For the boys.”

Updated to correct attribution of a quote.