Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund helping families in need for 81st year
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The calls began coming in September, parents starting to think about the holiday season, wondering whether the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund would be lending a hand again this year.
The answer is yes. The Gazette-sponsored Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund kicks off its 81st season this week.
Though inquiries came earlier than usual, Mary Lou Spaulding of Berkshire Children and Families in Hadley said staff began gearing up. With a big assist from volunteers, Berkshire Children and Families handles the application process before turning recipient names over to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, which lines up participating stores, manages the fund and distributes $40 vouchers to each eligible child.
The fund has a stated purpose to make the holidays joyful for children of families in need, noted Gazette Editor Larry Parnass. But there’s more. “It fosters community and creates an opportunity for people to come together and work together,” he said.
Indeed, Berkshire Children and Families and the paper have been partners in the campaign for its entire existence.
“We’re always pleased to do it,” said Spaulding, who has been involved herself for nearly a decade.
It was during Thanksgiving week in 1933 that the drive, started by a former business manager at the Gazette, Sidney F. Smith, received its first donation, a single coin from a child who wanted to give something to help another child in need. Last year the fund, which collected nearly $72,000, gave gift vouchers to 1,793 children, who range in age from 1 to 14. The goal is to at least match that this season.
“I think the need is probably greater than it has been in years past,” said Dennis Skoglund, publisher of Pioneer Valley Newspapers, which includes the Gazette and The Recorder. He said his instinct is based on the higher-than-usual demand staff at The Recorder saw this year in its campaign to provide winter clothing for low-income children. “I would expect the same here in Hampshire County,” he said.
The Gazette newsroom, said Parnass, has enjoyed its role in promoting the toy fund drive.
“Over all the years the newspaper has done this, it has become a combination of community journalism and community purpose,” he said. Reporters enjoy taking a break from their beats to tell stories that illuminate the value of the toy fund, Parnass said.
“These are real stories of people who are benefitting the community as they get together, work together and have fun together to raise money for the fund,” he said.
He pointed out that this is done in a wide range of ways, from people dropping money in a jar each time they utter a cussword to children taking up a collection to honor a favorite teacher.
Gazette employees, along with those of its sister publication, The Valley Advocate, also contribute to the effort through their annual Christmas party in which employees donate items that are raffled off. Last year the papers, which have 130 employees combined, netted $1,706 this way. Parnass said the event not only brings the papers’ staffs together to have some fun at holiday time, but it also has become a source of pride. “I think people feel a sense of calling to be a leader among workplaces that contribute to the fund,” he said. The staff, he added, “likes to see a good number in the paper a day or two later showing what employees were able to raise on their own.”
Berkshire Children and Families, which has 25 workers, also takes up a collection each year at the end of the drive, said Spaulding, last December raising $170 donated from the staff “with appreciation for our Toy Fund volunteers Cathy Lawler and Carol Varsano.”
A total of $2,125 came in during the course of 2013 to start off this year’s drive, said Pat Maleno, the director of human resources at the Gazette, Recorder and Advocate.
A secondary purpose of the toy fund, which has arisen over the years, is that it gives people an opportunity to bring loved ones who have passed away back into the holiday season, Parnass said. Donors do this by putting those loved ones’ names and a few phrases about them in print and online as they make contributions in their memory, and sometimes, by talking about them to reporters, he said. “These little tributes speak to how much joy they brought to other people at this time of year.”
The Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund provides certificates redeemable at participating local retailers to eligible families who can use them to buy holiday gifts at participating stores through Dec. 29.
The fund distributes vouchers to families for each child from age 1 to 14. Those eligible must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, or in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury and Leverett. Applications must be in by Dec. 2.
Berkshire Children and Families (formerly Children’s Aid and Family Services), located at 220 Russell St., Hadley, verifies families’ eligibility. 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.
The following stores are participating this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, 57 King St., Northampton; Deals & Steals, 76 Pleasant St., Northampton; Faces, 175 Main St., Northampton; F.J. Rogers, 3 Main St., Florence; JCPenney, 341 Russell St., Hadley and Holyoke; The Toy Box, 201 North Pleasant St., Amherst; Wilson’s Dept. Store, 258 Main St., Greenfield; and TARGET Store 367 Russell St. Hadley.
The certificates are redeemable at every store on the list. Donations to the Toy Fund may be dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette P.O. Box 299 in Northampton, 01061 or at the Amherst office, 9 East Pleasant St., Amherst. 01002. Donations may also be made through Gazettenet at www.gazettenet.com.
Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.