Eight decades later, Roger King donates $50 to Toy Fund
NORTHAMPTON — The memory of watching his mother count a handful of crisp bills some 80 years ago is an image as vivid in Roger E. King’s mind today as it was during the height of the Depression.
“As her nosy 6-year-old son, I watched bug-eyed as she counted out the 10, crisp $5 bills,” said King, who lived in Haydenville with his mother and four siblings.
Now 86, King remembers thinking he had hit the toy jackpot and would finally have something besides open space under the Christmas tree.
It is that memory that prompted King to send along a donation last week to the Daily Hampshire Gazette-sponsored charity, the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund, which provides certificates redeemable at participating local retailers to families in need around the holidays. Families use the vouchers to buy holiday gifts through Dec. 31. Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the fund began in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression and today distributes certificates worth $40 to eligible families for each child from age 1 to 14.
As King remembers it, the $50 his family received from Smith Charities (which is no relation to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund) was a huge deal for a struggling family of six whose patriarch had died several years earlier. King says the death of his father left his mother, Ruth, a widow with five young children; King was just 3 months old when his father died. He remembers well the sense of scrimping, and even suffering, his family endured.
“Fifty dollars was the size of a mountain as far as I was concerned,” King said, noting that the family lived on charity at a time when money was “nonexistent.”
To his mother, the money meant heat. The cash allowed her to pay the Kimball & Carey Coal Co. to fill the family’s empty coal bins. That meant the family wouldn’t have to huddle in the kitchen to stay warm, a common practice in those days as a way to conserve coal.
“We were warm for a change, I remember that,” said King, a retired General Electric worker who now lives in Schenectady, N.Y.
Rather than toys, the balance of the money went to paying down a large grocery account with the William J. Sheehan grocery store. King said the store often provided the family with food on a pay-when-you-can basis, a gesture that helped the family immensely.
“It was a different time,” King said.
Now it’s King’s time to pay it forward. After reading about the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund, he promptly donated $50. He views the donation as a partial return on the investment that Smith Charities made to his family at the height of the Depression. Smith Charities has been helping women and children in the region with financial assistance for more than a century. It is named after Oliver Smith of Hatfield.
“I’d like to think that money will help somebody have the kind of Christmas that I got,” King said.
He made the payment in memory of his mother, his late brothers Chester, Rowland and Frederick, and his 98-year-old sister, Gertrude Ramstrom.
“I do feel indebted ... it was a high spot of my life, I’ll tell you that,” King said.
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 the income eligibility of families. Most families who receive assistance are referred by social service agencies. The Gazette covers all costs of the Toy Fund.
The following stores are participating this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, Northampton; Deals & Steals, Northampton; Faces, Northampton; F.J. Rogers, Florence; JCPenney, Hadley; Mountain Goat, Northampton; The Toy Box, Amherst; Wilson’s department store, Greenfield; and Target, Hadley.
Donations to the Toy Fund may be made online at toyfund.gazettenet.com, or dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, 115 Conz St., Northampton, 01060 or Gazette offices at 67 Main St., Easthampton, or 9 East Pleasant St., Amherst.
Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.