Annual toy fund donations celebrate a familial love of Christmas

  • Sidney F. Smith, ca. 1962. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/22/2021 10:23:08 AM
Modified: 12/22/2021 10:22:53 AM

LUDLOW — Christmas hasn’t been the same since Christine Carr Hill’s mother, Eileen McGrath Carr, died.

Eileen died 34 years ago from colon cancer that progressed to her liver. At the time, Hill was only 28 and had finally reached the point that she felt like she had become an adult.

“When she died, I immediately realized that mothers are the heart of Christmas,” said Hill, who now resides in Ludlow. “It’s never been the same.”

Her father, Charlie Carr, who served as a mail carrier in Northampton for three decades, died six years ago. Both of her parents were avid readers of the Gazette.

Hill’s sister, Terry Carr, began the tradition of making a donation to the Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund to remember them. Since each of Hill’s siblings live in different areas, each of them has been submitting their own annual donations in honor of their parents, who loved Christmas.

“My mother never wanted a child to be forgotten,” Hill said.

In addition to the memory of her parents, Hill also acknowledged her aunt and uncle, Pat and Bob Carr. Preparation for Christmas at her aunt’s and uncle’s house took about two months to complete. Hill recalls going over on New Year’s Day and looking at the walls festooned with merriment. After the couple passed away, Hill learned just how vast her aunt’s Christmas collection was.

“Their home had a big impact on my memories of Christmas. I remember asking her how long it took to put everything away and she told me, ‘A long time.’ That’s why she’d leave it up until February,” Hill said with a chuckle. “And although they didn’t have children of their own, we learned that they were godparents to 20 (people).”

The couple, who were world travelers, had amassed all kinds of collectibles over the years. At the estate sale, the Christmas decorations — which included numerous pieces of villages as well as Annalee ornaments — took up so much space that they all were featured in the garage.

Outside of this donation, Hill also participates in charitable efforts through her work as the associate director of gift planning at Smith College. Each year, the holiday party incorporates a collection to the local food pantry or for women’s shelters.

“To me, having a charitable impact is definitely important,” she said.

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 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, and in Holyoke in Hampden County.

CSO-The Bridge Family Resource Center at 101 University Drive in Amherst 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; Blue Marble/Little Blue, 150 Main St., Level 1, Northampton; High Five Books, 141 N. Main St., Florence; The Toy Box, 201 N. Pleasant St., Amherst; Once Upon A Child,1458 Riverdale St., West Springfield; Plato’s Closet, 1472 Riverdale St., West Springfield; Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, 227 Russell St., Hadley; Odyssey Bookshop, 9 College St., Village Commons, South Hadley; The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 125 W. Bay Road, Amherst; World Eye Bookshop, 134 Main St., Greenfield; Holyoke Sporting Goods Co., 1584 Dwight St. No. 1, Holyoke.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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