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Northampton High students pay it forward for Toy Fund

  • Amanda Sheehan,17,of Northampton hands her teacher, Trish Armstrong, a donation for the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund during a health class Monday.

    Amanda Sheehan,17,of Northampton hands her teacher, Trish Armstrong, a donation for the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund during a health class Monday. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Scott Jablon,15, of Northampton hands his teacher, Trish Armstrong, a donation for the Toy Fund  during his  health and wellness class which raised money for the Toy Fund.<br/>

    Scott Jablon,15, of Northampton hands his teacher, Trish Armstrong, a donation for the Toy Fund during his health and wellness class which raised money for the Toy Fund.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Students in Trish Armstrong's health and wellness classes raised money for the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.

    Students in Trish Armstrong's health and wellness classes raised money for the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amanda Sheehan,17,of Northampton hands her teacher, Trish Armstrong, a donation for the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund during a health class Monday.
  • Scott Jablon,15, of Northampton hands his teacher, Trish Armstrong, a donation for the Toy Fund  during his  health and wellness class which raised money for the Toy Fund.<br/>
  • Students in Trish Armstrong's health and wellness classes raised money for the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.

Each donation was enthusiastically heralded with a round of applause.

Welcome to a lesson in random acts of kindness, one of the subtexts teacher Trish Armstrong, health educator at the high school, has been pushing all year long.

Indeed, on the white board at the front of the classroom is this handwritten message: “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions and the roots spring up and make new trees.”

The beneficiaries of the latest acts of the students’ kindness are the local families who receive vouchers from the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund. They can redeem the vouchers at participating area retailers through Dec. 31 to buy holiday gifts for their children.

Armstrong said that shortly after Thanksgiving she asked her two wellness classes if they’d heard of the Toy Fund, which the Gazette has sponsored to help local families in need every year since 1933.

Since an element of the class involves keeping up with current events by reading newspapers, most students, Armstrong said, had seen some of the Page 1 articles the Gazette runs to publicize the Toy Fund. She asked if they would like to be part of an effort to raise money for the fund, “just as a side project, just to give back some love and kindness to the world.”

Without another nudge, both classes were on board.

“It’s part of environmental and social wellness,” said Eva-Quenby Johnson, a sophomore.

“It just spreads good cheer all around,” said another student.

“I think in light of the recent events, this is the opposite of hate,” said Eliza Moss-Horwitz, a sophomore. “It feels especially good to do something kind.”

Aware that a little competition never hurts, Armstrong suggested a friendly contest — whichever wellness class raised more money for the Toy Fund would win something simple, like a pizza party or a homework pass. The top three contributors would get bags of chocolates.

So for six consecutive class sessions, as part of the daily routine, Armstrong invited students to hand in their donations — “100 percent voluntary,” she said — and she marked each donation down. The contest wrapped up Wednesday.

On Monday, donations from her students in Wellness A class came in amid hooting, clapping and making friendly wisecracks like “hey, big spender.”

When Amanda Sheehan gave the $9.60 she had found on her desk at home, she got applause. Someone else gave $1 and another student added his $1 to it. More applause. Jacqueline Li, a senior, gave $30. Applause.

With each contribution, sophomore Emme Hutchins punched in the numbers on her calculator until the tally for the day came to $68.81, bringing the total raised to date to $303.02.

“How many $40 vouchers is that?” Armstrong asked the class, which made short work of the math.

“That’s at least seven vouchers,” agreed Armstrong. “That helps out many families.”

Jonathan Goldman, a sophomore, said his motivation came from an experience over the summer when he helped with a food program for families in need. He said one day someone he knew came to collect food, which made him realize that people who need help are very likely people he knows.

“I’d easily give up something for my friends if it would be one less thing for them to worry about,” he said.

The previous week, when sophomore Anya Spector donated $40 she had earned baby-sitting she frankly admitted she had dual motivations at work.

“I really wanted to get a pizza party — and it feels good to donate,” she said.

When all was tallied up, the two classes donated $814.26, with Class 3A bringing in $455.45 to Class 3B’s $358.81. And in the end, Armstrong said, she opted to give both classes a pizza party.

“I have to. They both tried really hard and they’re both great,” she said.

The Toy Fund provides $40 certificates redeemable at participating local retailers to eligible families for each child from age 1 to 14. Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the fund was launched to help families in need during the 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. in 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 Dept. Store, Greenfield; and Target, Hadley.

Donations to the Toy Fund may be 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. To donate to the Toy Fund online, visit toyfund.gazettenet.com.

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