Toy Fund: A year of hardship on the minds of many donors

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Staff Writer
Published: 12/18/2020 1:01:56 PM
Modified: 12/18/2020 1:01:44 PM

NORTHAMPTON — In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, unemployment across the country hit a staggering 25%, a mark that would come to symbolize just how bad joblessness could get in a capitalist economy.

This May, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the unemployment rate was around 16%, according to a federal estimate. Most states hit historical highs in unemployment this spring, including Massachusetts, which suffered a 17.7% unemployment rate in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although those numbers have improved, the country is likely still in the worst period of joblessness since the Depression, with yet another surge of COVID-19 cases underway.

Though not a perfect comparison, there are plenty of parallels between the current moment and the Depression, when the Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund was first created to help families in need. And for many donors to the fund this year, the financial suffering, disease and death so many have faced this year was at the front of their minds.

“In memory of those worldwide lost to COVID-19,” wrote one donor, Judith Schaefer, in a donation message. “May 2021 be a safer year.”

Many gave in honor of the essential workers who have sacrificed their own health for the public good. Others gave in acknowledgement of those who have lost their jobs during the massive economic downturn.

“We the members of the Hatfield American Legion realize that there are many in our community that need assistance, especially this year,” read one donation. “In support of our neighbors during these unprecedented times,” read another. “In recognition of all the front line workers who have cared for us this year,” a third donor noted.

For Jinny Reilly, it made sense to donate this year for those families struggling during the pandemic.

“We’re seniors, we’re on fixed income so we can afford to do it this year,” Reilly said.

Reilly said that she and her husband John normally donate in honor of their parents, who likely lived through the hardships of the Great Depression that initially sparked the idea for the Toy Fund.

“It’s that way now for a lot of people,” Reilly said. “It’s scary, it really is. I feel so bad for all those people who can’t pay the rent or have a Christmas tree or toys for their kids.”

Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Toy Fund began in 1933 and today 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.

18 Degrees Family Services for Western Massachusetts at 59 Interstate Drive in West Springfield 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: Deals & Steals, 1 Pearl St., 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; 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 & Magical Child Toy Store, 134 Main St., Greenfield; Holyoke Sporting Goods Co., 1584 Dwight St. #1, Holyoke.

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

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

Dusty Christensen can be reached at

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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