Toy Fund donor honors friends who meet for breakfast

  • Patricia Coon, third from left, eats breakfast a few years ago with her “Bagel Buddies” at Tandem Bagel in Easthampton. Coon donates to the Toy Fund every year in honor of her friends. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/8/2021 8:48:39 AM
Modified: 12/8/2021 8:48:12 AM

NORTHAMPTON — About 20 years ago, after Patricia “Pat” Coon retired from her job as a schoolteacher, she lost her husband and was feeling rather lost. A couple of widowed women she knew invited her to join them for breakfast at a cafe — and a tradition was born.

Coon and other widowers, known informally as the “Bagel Buddies,” have been meeting for breakfast most weekday mornings for years now, mostly at the former Manhan Cafe in Easthampton and more recently at Tandem Bagel, also in Easthampton.

And though they were forced to suspend most of their shared meals during the worst stretch of the pandemic, says Coon, group members have since returned to eating together.

That tradition has led to some strong friendships and camaraderie, she adds, and other shared activities like traveling. And to mark the importance of the group in her life, Coon, who lives in Florence, has donated for years to the Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.

Though she and her late husband did not have children, Coon says the parents of one of her former students donated to the Toy Fund in her honor one year, giving her the idea to give $50 annually to the fund in honor of her friends.

“It’s just a nice way to recognize my friends and the spirit of the holidays,” said Coon, a former teacher at White Brook Middle School in Easthampton. “It’s a good cause.”

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, while the Gazette covers costs associated with the drive, freeing all donations to fund the vouchers.

Coon says her group was initially known as the “English Muffin Ladies” — the nickname came from Douglas Hurteau, owner of the Manhan Cafe — because Coon and her companions typically ordered English muffins with fruit preserves or marmalade.

Since shifting to the Tandem Bagel, she noted, members, including some widowed men, have altered their breakfast cuisine.

Things became challenging when the pandemic arrived last year, Coon says, and the morning breakfasts had to halt for a while, though members occasionally met outside to keep in touch. Once everyone was vaccinated, they resumed meeting for meals.

“We’re still very careful, but it’s nice to be back together,” she said.

With a laugh, Coon said her friends tend to look in the Gazette this time of year to see if she’s made her annual Toy Fund donation in their honor. “I’m still doing it,” she said.

The following stores are participating in the Toy Fund 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.

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.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazetetnet.com.

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