Toy Fund: Gazette writer reflects on donating to paper’s toy fund drive

  • Dorothy Aichler


Staff writer
Sunday, December 10, 2017

My wife and I have been donating to the Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Memorial Toy Fund for years, from sometime shortly after our son, Sean, was born.

Once we’d become parents, it was an easy choice to contribute to a program that helps needy families give their children holiday gifts.

I don’t remember how much we donated at first, but once my daughter, Marissa, joined us in 2000, we came up with our annual contribution by adding all our ages together. I won’t tell you what that figure is now, but you don’t have to be a math whiz to know it goes up $4 every year.

And over that roughly 20-year period, we’ve always donated in memory of my parents, Anthony and Madeline, who passed away years ago, and my late father-in-law, Ben Tousey, who died just a few months after he got to hold his tiny grandson in our home in the summer of 1995.

This year our family, sadly, has two other names to remember with our Toy Fund gift: Dolores Tousey, my wife’s mother, and Dorothy Aichler, Dolores’ sister and my wife’s aunt. Both died in the past 15 months after some struggles with their health, Dorothy in September 2016 and Dolores in February this year.

That made last year’s holiday season a very difficult time for my wife, Joyce, who made several trips to her mother and aunt’s house north of Detroit to attend first to her aunt and then her mom. She was particularly close to her aunt, as well as the most dutiful daughter you can imagine to her mother.

It seems strange this holiday season not to have them with us. When my children were a little younger, Joyce would take them to Detroit almost every Christmas — I made some of those trips, too — for several days so that her mother and aunt could see the grandkids.

And both women were exceedingly generous to our kids and to us. There were always plenty of gifts under their Christmas tree and a big spread of food on the table. Lots of meat and potatoes — real Midwest style.

In fact, I still find it hard to believe Dolores and Dorothy are gone.

They were children of the Great Depression who grew up in tough circumstances, and both took some hard knocks in life. But they made it into their 90s, even though for years they smoked, drank coffee like water and ate red meat pretty much every day. I thought they might soldier on forever.

Dolores was a big fan of newspapers, reading three of them a day: “a real newshound,” as Joyce called her. She was also, Joyce liked to remind me, “your biggest fan.” I sent copies of many of my bigger Gazette articles to her over the years, and I always got back a nice thank-you note that said “You write so well!” I loved it.

Meantime, I’d swap baseball talk with Dorothy — she was a longtime Detroit Tigers fan — on the phone or in Christmas and birthday cards. I particularly remember asking her a few years ago, after the Red Sox traded for one of the Tigers’ pitchers, “So what about this guy Rick Porcello? How good is he?”

I also remember Dorothy liked the books of Archer Mayor, the Brattleboro, Vermont, mystery writer, who I interviewed a few years ago when he set one of his titles, “Paradise City,” primarily in Northampton. I sent her a copy of the piece I wrote about the book, and she told me she had enjoyed it.

So this year, our family will remember Dolores and Dorothy — their big hearts and generosity — when we write our Toy Fund check. We miss you.

Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Toy Fund began in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression. Today, the fund distributes $40 vouchers to families for each child ages 1 to 14. 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.

The Toy Fund certificates are redeemable at participating local retailers to eligible families who can use them to buy holiday gifts at participating stores through Dec. 31.

The following stores are participating this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, 57 King St., Northampton; Deals & Steals, 1 Pearl St., Northampton; JCPenney, 341 Russell St., Hadley (store only); The Toy Box, 201 N. Pleasant St., Amherst; Target, 367 Russell St. Hadley (store only); Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, 227 Russell St., Hadley; Odyssey Bookshop, 9 College St., Village Commons, South Hadley; Wilson’s Dept. Store, 258 Main St., Greenfield; World Eye Bookshop/Magical Child, 134 Main St., Greenfield.

In 2016 the Toy Fund distributed $56,925 through more than 1,400 vouchers. Donations to the Toy Fund may be dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette at 115 Conz St. in Northampton, 01060, or made online through Gazettenet at toyfund.gazettenet.com. Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.

Steve Pfarrer is a feature writer for the Gazette. He can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.