Vineyarders will be passing around more than turkeys and footballs this holiday season. Various Island organizations are preparing to commence some Yuletide giving.
One of the largest holiday-giving operations that takes place on Martha’s Vineyard is the Red Stocking Fund, which the website states began in 1938 with six stockings full of “something to eat, something to wear, and something to play with” given to children in need on Christmas. This tradition that Vineyard Haven resident Addie Crist and her friends started grew over the years, and incorporated in 1986 with a board of directors. This is now led by co-chairs Sandy Joyce and Susie Wallo, serving children from birth through the eighth grade whose families are in need, with a focused effort running from September to this year’s distribution date of Dec. 16.
The online application to receive gifts went live a couple of weeks ago, and Wallo told The Times there have been around 100 applicants so far. “That’s families. Last year, we had 314 children we took care of,” Wallo said.
“We have 100 applications, and that’s not 100 children, because some people have more than one child,” Joyce added. “So they fill out one application and list their children.”
As the Red Stocking team prepares for December, there are some uncertainties stemming from economic sources, such as housing and inflation, according to Wallo. “One of the biggest reasons people put down that they need our help is because of energy expenses,” Wallo said.
These wallet-biting expenses have driven some past recipients of Red Stocking off the Island, and revealed newcomers in need of support.
“That’s one of the important things to understand about Red Stocking. It’s not a program available for everyone. You really need to demonstrate significant financial need to qualify for Red Stocking,” Joyce said.
What can children get to help them through the cold winter months? Wallo said qualified applicants get to pick three out of five options, including warm winter coats, boots, and underwear.
“We make sure they get a book, we make sure they get a puzzle, and we give them some basic school and art supplies,” Wallo said. “The community donates toys. We don’t do toys. So they donate the toys, and then we select the toys to give to the different children.”
A part of the idea is cutting back a bit of a struggling family’s expenses. “If we can help provide them with warm winter clothing, then they don’t have that expense … then maybe those dollars can go to helping them pay their electricity bill,” Joyce said.
Another organization preparing to give gifts to children is the Beacon of Hope Church in Edgartown. The church has continuing ministries to help others, such as a fund for the needy that gathers money throughout the year. A giving activity church members participate in is Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian humanitarian organization.
“Basically, people fill shoeboxes with good stuff for kids, and it’s shipped throughout the world,” Beacon of Hope Church pastor the Rev. Greg Bar said. “It’s really cool.”
The Beacon of Hope congregation has “been doing it for years,” and Bar said, “it’s a great thing and an easy way to contribute to a kid’s life, sometimes in a remote place.” This year’s shoeboxes are still being planned by the church, but nonmembers can also participate by filling up a box and giving it to the church by Sunday, Nov. 20. According to Bar, some of the other churches on the Island also participate in Operation Christmas Child.
When shopping for items to put into the shoeboxes, Bar takes his grandchildren to stores to pick out what they might like as recipients. “It gets our kids in the mode of giving and serving,” Bar said.
Not all places are planning special holiday giving programs, but they are continuing their services for those in need. For the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, there are ministries to provide food for those who might otherwise go hungry.
“We have a year-round food program,” church volunteers coordinator Marjorie Pierce said, listing examples like the winter community suppers and donating food to different organizations on the Island. “I just delivered a tray of warm soup and applesauce to the West Tisbury library.”
Pierce said while an additional holiday-giving ministry is not planned for this year, the Christmas Eve service celebrated at the Agricultural Hall can see “substantial gifts” come through that are given back to the community.
“We give to the community for Christmas Eve,” Pierce said, adding that donations given during the 5 and 10 pm services will be divided among three to four of the church’s ministries focused on supporting Island children and families. Additionally, congregants can give to the community in other ways, such as wrapping presents for the Red Stocking Fund. Pierce recently wrote a grant application for her church’s winter community suppers.
Although holiday giving provides comfort and gifts to those in need, some with teary eyes, volunteers — from on-the-ground workers to sponsors of children — also receive something in return.
“It’s a passion that we have, and it’s truly a gift that we can do this,” Wallo said.
“We get more than we give,” Joyce said.