Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund marks 86th year: annual holiday drive helps families in need 

  • Henry Meryman wearing a Santa hat in the 1980s. Submitted Photo

  • The Meryman siblings, with Henry on the left and Charlotte in the foreground, oldest brother Rick, standing, and sister Louise. The photo was taken in 1959.  Submitted Photo

  • Henry Meryman with a Christmas stocking in the 1970s. Submitted Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/21/2018 3:06:37 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Henry Meryman had a passion for Christmas and the festive holiday season during his life, from the decorations and food to the gifts and music. 

But his younger sister recalls that it was the lights that gave the biggest source of entertainment to her brother, who was born with mild development delays, as he would often string and rearrange them to get the right color pattern.

As he suffered a degenerative neurological condition and then dementia that kept him from opening presents later in life, Charlotte Meryman of Williamsburg said she began donating to The Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund in her sibling’s name, a tradition that has continued since his 2013 death.

“The Henry I hold in my heart is the exuberant brother of my childhood, bursting with Christmas excitement,” Meryman said. “I know he'd be thrilled to know his legacy includes sharing that joy with a whole new generation.”

The opportunity to remember loved ones, and pass on their love for the holiday season to other families, is among the popular reasons people give to the Toy Fund, now in its 86th year. 

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.

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

Last year, the Gazette collected $64,700 and issued between 1,400 and 1,500 vouchers.

Aaron Julien, president and CEO of Newspapers of New England, Inc., which owns the Gazette, The Recorder in Greenfield and the Athol Daily News, said the long-running Toy Fund is one of the ways the company gives back, similar to the Warm the Children coats drive The Recorder oversees and company donations to the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

“The Toy Fund makes the holiday season happier for children, and what could be better than that? Julien said.

Like Meryman, Sarah Wanczyk of Hadley makes contributions in memory of loved ones, in her case to honor her parents Richard and Joyce Belden, and her friend, Barbara Wilda.

Wanczyk said her parents instilled community involvement in her and her three siblings and both worked hard to provide for the family. Though her father was a dairy farmer, he also did part-time work.

“The Gazette’s Toy Fund was my personal choice to remember my parents as both parents loved children,” Wanczyk said.

Wanczyk added, “My friend Barbara was a very hard worker and always thinking of others before herself.”

Terry Carr of Florence said her parents, Charles B. and Eileen Carr, read the Gazette every day. She has made Toy Fund donations to remember them, observing that her father was a mail carrier in Northampton for 30 years.

“He was a Little League coach, American Legion coach, the first mailman to wear shorts, golfing in a snow storm, and an American Legion commander,” Carr said.

Other contributions come from businesses, such as an annual ornament sale at Joe’s Cafe in Northampton, workplaces and classrooms.

Donors may not see how their support immediately impacts local families. But Marylou Spaulding, site coordinator at Berkshire Children & Families in Hadley, said she is well aware of the need from applications for vouchers.

“I have already entered hundreds of applications,” Spaulding said.

The applications will continue pouring in until early December, she said, as people are referred by agencies or hear about the Toy Fund by word of mouth.

Those who receive vouchers will be able to use them at the following stores which are participating this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, 57 King St., Northampton; Deals & Steals, 1 Pearl St., Northampton; Faces, 175 Main 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; and World Eye Bookshop/Magical Child, 134 Main St., Greenfield.

Donations to The Sidney F. Smith 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

Spaulding sees some of those who apply, and knows that it will make the holidays brighter for those families and their children. “People coming in to apply are always so grateful,” she said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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