Teacher at International Language Institute in Northampton helps her students by donating to Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund

Last modified: Tuesday, December 10, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — Betsy Rider said that when she reads stories about the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund, she is intrigued by how personally they describe the donors.

Rider, 53, who lives in Northampton, said she never thought much about the people who benefit from the fund until she met about 40 of them.

Rider this year made her first donation to the fund in the name of the immigrants and refugees who learn English from her and others at the International Language Institute in Northampton. She has been involved with the institute for about five years and teaches English as a second language and German.

Rider said many of the people she teaches work two or three jobs earlier in the day before attending three-hour language classes twice a week in the evenings.

Rider said the approximately 40 students in her classes tell her they are all trying to learn English to get jobs better than the part-time ones they have now, which often pay the minimum wage.

Rider said her students tell her it’s the only way to improve the situation for their families. Some are working up to 60 hours per week in fields such as housekeeping and hospitality, which do not pay enough for them to afford extras during the holidays.

“If you have two jobs at minimum wage and have three kids, there’s no money left over for gifts,” she said.

When Rider learned people receiving MassHealth or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits qualify for the Toy Fund, she realized most students in her class were likely candidates.

But most of them were not aware of the program because they have not yet developed their language skills sufficiently to read the newspaper. Rider said she brought Toy Fund applications to the classes and helped her students complete them.

Many who filled out applications said they knew other people who could benefit from the Toy Fund, but also were not aware it existed.

After introducing the fund to her students, Rider said she was concerned about the Toy Fund taking on additional families, so she decided to make a donation.

“I can’t give the money for all the people, but I can make a donation and I hope other people will,” she said.