‘The coolest grandma ever’: Toy fund donor keeps memories alive through giving

  • Left to right, Leonara Carpenter, Kristen Estelle’s great grandmother Maude Brown, Estelle’s mother Donna Eldred, and Estelle, in 1985. PHOTO COURTESY OF KRISTEN ESTELLE 

  • Leonara Carpenter and Kristen Estelle in 1989 when her grandmother was 49 and Estelle was 6.  PHOTO COURTESY OF KRISTEN ESTELLE

Staff Writer 
Published: 12/27/2019 10:41:31 AM

GOSHEN – Kristen Estelle, a 36-year-old resident of Goshen, has been donating to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund every year for the past 15 years. Her annual donation is in memory of her grandmother Leonara Carpenter, who Estelle described as a “child at heart” and passed away at the age of 64 when Estelle was in her 20s. 

“When you’re a child, there’s nothing better than an adult who will do the most things with you that really no other adult will do,” Estelle explained. “My favorite one was when I would sleep over her house on the weekends in the summer. It’d be around 9:30 (p.m.) and she’d say, ‘Let’s take a night walk.’ And so, we would walk around the block around her house, about a mile long.” 

When she was a child, her grandmother would take her to see lightning bugs and see-saw with her in a park during the middle of the night, Estelle said. 

“That definitely cemented her status as the coolest grandma ever,” she added. “This was probably when I was 11 or so.” 

Estelle said she started donating to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund almost 15 years ago when she was working at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in the advertising department. 

“My grandmother would wish that every child would have the happiest Christmas possible,” Estelle said. “Every child deserves the joy of having a gift under the tree on Christmas morning and she would just want every child to experience that happiness.” 

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, in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury, and Leverett, and in Holyoke in Hampden County. 

Leonara Carpenter, who was a longtime resident of Chesterfield, loved the holidays, especially decorating her home and especially at Easter, which is around Estelle’s birthday, she said. 

“Every child needs an adult who makes them feel special and important and loved,” she explained. “She was the one who did that for me. I’m sure she probably supported the toy fund herself, but I don’t know that for sure.” 

Growing up her grandmother also had a teddy bear while she was staying at a hospital for a long-term illness, Estelle said. 

“When she passed, my aunt gave me that teddy bear and it sat on my shelf for a number of years,” she explained. 

Now, Estelle is a mother with two children — a nine-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son named Stephen, whose nickname is “Buddy.” Her son now carries around the bear constantly having named it “Bear.” 

“One day he took Bear off the shelf and started playing with him and I had kind of mixed feelings about it,” she noted. “It was a memento of my grandmother, but at the same time, it is a toy. She loved children and she loved children having that fun, so I decided to let him play with it. Well, he’s almost eight years old and he’s inseparable from that bear.” 

Her son never met Estelle’s grandmother, but Estelle feels like a connection to her grandmother lives on through Bear. 

“I just feel like you know, maybe he can feel her spirit through it?” Estelle said. 

18 Degrees Family Services for Western Massachusetts at 59 Interstate Drive in West Springfield verifies families’ eligibility for the Toy Fund 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, 367 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 Department Store, 258 Main St., Greenfield; World Eye Bookshop & Magical Child, 134 Main St., Greenfield; Holyoke Sporting Goods Co. 1584 Dwight St. #1, Holyoke; Children's Museum at Holyoke, 444 Dwight St., 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.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com. 


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