Toy Fund: A veteran’s message of peace

  • Melanie Fletcher-Howell made a donation to the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund, from herself and the couple’s daughters, Jessica Jimison and Whitney Vaughan, in honor of her husband Gordon. Gordon Fletcher-Howell is a longtime veterans advocate from Amherst who has been profiled in several newspaper articles including the one Melanie is holding here. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Friday, December 22, 2017

AMHERST — Gordon Fletcher-Howell has lived his life teaching others about the horrors of what he experienced in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.

His advocacy for de-escalation and his message that war could be a family destroyer has made him a widely recognized and respected voice in the Pioneer Valley. During all those years of activism, Fletcher-Howell himself battled post-traumatic stress disorder and depression as a result of his experiences with war.

This past spring, Fletcher-Howell moved into the Soldiers’ Home health care facility in Holyoke as his most recent battle — with dementia — grew difficult.

It was in his honor that Fletcher-Howell’s wife, Melanie, donated to the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund, from herself and the couple’s daughters, Jessica Jimison and Whitney Vaughan.

“I think he would say, ‘be loving and present with your family and work for peace and understanding,’” Melanie said when asked what her husband’s message to readers would have been.

She said Fletcher-Howell, who was always an avid walker, eventually began to wander after being diagnosed with dementia in 2014. In that difficult situation, Melanie said she was eternally grateful of the people who helped as both social safety net and community support.

“I became very much the family of the Leverett police force, because they’re such wonderful guys,” she said.

When Fletcher-Howell began wandering onto the street, they’d be right there to help. “The police were always good about dropping everything and racing over.”

There was also the VA hospital in Northampton, where she said he received excellent care during moments like the Iraq War, for example, when the images on television deeply disturbed her husband.

Now, at the Soldiers’ Home, he’s getting great care, she said. She has taken over doing his laundry, so she sees him at least three times a week.

“Of all the places he could be, I think that we really were fortunate,” she said.

When donating to the Toy Fund, Melanie said it was specifically in honor of Fletcher-Howell and the work he did with the Veterans Education Project, which trains local veterans to share their personal stories of war.

“That was huge for his recovery,” Melanie said. It helped him move forward when his war experiences made things difficult. “To being able to... not let it go, but not be such a cruel robbing of his regular life experiences.”

When asked about donating to the fund, Melanie did say she is glad her husband isn’t able to see the big thing everyone now sees splashed all over their television screens. “I’m so thrilled actually that he is not able to comprehend that Donald Trump is in a place of power and doing what he’s doing,” she said. “I can only just imagine what that would do to Gordon’s sensibilities.”

The 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. 31, 2017.

Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the fund began in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression. Today, the fund distributes vouchers worth $40 to families for each child from age 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.

Berkshire Children & Families at 220 Russell St., Suite 200 in Hadley, MA 01035, verifies families’ eligibility and the Gazette covers costs associated with the drive, freeing all donations to fund the vouchers.

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.

Donations to the Toy Fund may be dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, P.O. Box 299, Northampton, MA, 01061, or made through Gazettenet at www.gazettenet.com.

Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.