Donations from area employees help boost Gazette’s annual Toy Fund drive

Last modified: Saturday, December 21, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — The way Paula Cialek sees it, “Christmas is for kids.”

Cialek, who collects donations from co-workers at L-3 KEO (formerly Kollmorgen) for the Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund, starts sending out emails in late November “and the money just starts flowing in,” she said.

This year, the nearly 300 employees of the optical systems company ponied up for a donation that totaled $1,408 to the Toy Fund.

L-3 KEO is among a number of area employee groups that contribute to the fund each year in support of its holiday gift-giving mission. Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Toy Fund provides certificates redeemable at participating local stores to families to buy holiday gifts for children aged 1-14.

Among the Toy Fund checks that have come in from local businesses and nonprofits this year was one for $436 from employees at Burke Chevrolet in Northampton; $360 from management at Florence Savings Bank in Florence; $1,000 from the Northampton Lions Club; $900 from the Information Systems department at Cooley Dickinson Hospital; and $200 from the staff of the Smith College Libraries.

Mary Lou Bouley, the catalogue librarian and self-described library “morale officer” at Smith, said employees began donating proceeds of their fall “silly auction” of oddball items to the Toy Fund about five years ago.

The library’s 50 staff members hold three such auctions a year where funds are donated to local causes. “We usually pick the Toy Fund for the fall” event, Bouley said.

Cialek, who works as a planner in production control at L-3 KEO, said she took over managing her company’s Toy Fund drive a few years ago from a former co-worker, Ann Finn, who “just had a special heart for kids.”

Some employees raise money for the fund throughout the year by collecting soda bottles to redeem, Cialek said. But efforts ramp up between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We have buckets I put out there beginning in December in our cafeteria and people will throw their change in,” Cialek said. “Quite a few folks put in a hefty contribution.”

This year’s donation was more than 25 percent higher than the $1,002 co-workers raised for the Toy Fund in 2012.

“I try to keep a running tally each year that let’s people know where we’re at and see what they can do to beat it,” Cialek said. Next year, she is considering hosting a gift raffle to boost the total even higher.

While many employees also give to other charities at the holidays, the Toy Fund remains “near and dear to their hearts,” Cialek said.

“People here are so generous,” she added. “Knowing that these kids need something makes it even more apparent.”

The fund was created in 1933 to help families in need during the Great Depression. Eligible families must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, or in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury and Leverett.

Berkshire Children and Families at 220 Russell St., Hadley, verifies families’ eligibility and the Gazette covers costs associated with the drive, freeing all donations to fund the vouchers. Most families who receive assistance are referred by social service agencies.

Donations to the Toy Fund may be dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette at 115 Conz St. in Northampton, 01060, the Gazette bureau at 9 East Pleasant St., Amherst, or made through Gazettenet at www.gazettenet.com.

Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.