Family honors matriarch with Toy Fund donations

  • Johanna Rice. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Johanna Kolodziej, at right, with her two daughters and husband.   SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2018 10:58:48 AM

WESTHAMPTON – Johanna Kolodziej has been donating to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund for about 20 years – sometimes with her daughters Baeleigh, 26, and Lyndsey O’Connor, 23 – but always in memory of her mother, Johanna Rice, who raised her seven children in Northampton on a limited income.

Kolodziej’s father, Robert Rice, worked for the city of Northampton as the Vernon Street School custodian until the day before classes started in September of 1974 when he had a massive stroke. He was never able to work again. He remained in the hospital through December and Kolodziej recalls that, at the time, her mother did not work or drive and they had no money. But, she remembers, “People helped us that Christmas,” including the Clarke School for the Deaf.

“They adopted us, picked us as a family in need – they did that back then,” she recalled. 

The next year her mother took up the role of breadwinner and began a 25-year career at the former Hampshire Community Action Commission, a social service agency which, coincidentally, found its home for a time in that same Vernon Street School building after the neighborhood elementary closed. Both Robert and Johanna Rice, and all their children, were raised in Northampton and attended St. Michael’s School. Once Rice’s seven kids were grown, she began giving to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund. Kolodziej says, “My parents have always liked to help people.” Her father died in 1993 at the age of 60.

In the 1990s, when Kolodziej was a single parent with two little girls – her youngest, only six months old – she starting nursing school at the University of Massachusetts. “It was hard,” she said, and for a couple of years she used the Gazette’s Toy Fund to buy presents for her kids. Since then, she says, “I always like to give back to it.”

After graduating 20 years ago, Kolodziej began her nursing career and her regular donations to the Toy Fund to honor her mother, who died in 1999 at the age of 65. She says, “When I could work, I wanted to give.”

Kolodziej, now remarried and living in Westhampton, teaches nursing at Holyoke Community College and can celebrate Christmas with her daughters, who still live in the Pioneer Valley. With her donations she hopes to help out some single parents.

“It seems that I’ve been on both ends,” Kolodziej said. “I just know it’s hard at Christmas time.”

Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Sidney F. Smith 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., Suite 200 in Hadley, MA 01035, 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; Deals & Steals, 1 Pearl St., Northampton; Faces, 175 Main St. Northampton; JCPenney, 341 Russell St., Hadley (store only); The ToyBox, 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; World Eye Bookshop/Magical Child, 134 Main St., Greenfield.

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.

Kevin Gutting can be reached at kgutting@gazettenet.com


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