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Hatfield Book Club hits 50-year mark with toy fund donations

  • Sidney F. Smith, ca. 1962. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 15, 2020

HATFIELD — For the Hatfield Book Club, reading is only a small part of its membership.

Since its establishment in 1904, the club has made itself known as a civic organization focused on philanthropy within the town. And while the club boasts that its biggest fundraiser for Hatfield and its schools comes through its annual Holiday Craft Fair, the club and its members have also quietly been making donations since 1970 to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund, according to Betsy Thornton, co-president of the book club.

“Before we did the toy fund, we had individual names. And we decided we would better help more children by going to the toy fund,” said Avis Fusek, past president of the book club. “We all made a decision to help more children than one individual … we thought it would be a better way to use our money.”

In November, the book club donated $375.46 to the toy fund, marking its 50th year of contributing to the toy fund.

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, or 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 Hatfield Book Club started when women began meeting in various homes to discuss home life and child care, Thornton said. Members rolled bandages and raised money during the war efforts, she said. Contributions to the schools “were a major focus in the first decade, and continue to be a primary part of our contributions,” Thornton said. While members of the Hatfield Book Club have been giving to the toy fund since the 1970s, the club began matching members’ donations in 1996.

“We’re not a book club, per se,” Fusek said, who added that the club donates to “anything that comes up in town that we think is in need.”

When Claudia Copper, former vice president of the club, first joined in 1973, she said meetings and obtaining membership was “much more formal than now.”

“There was usually a speaker, and afterward we would have refreshments,” she said. “That was quite an ordeal — no paper plates or anything.”

Copper said the club was “an outlet” for her as she got to meet other people in the community. At one point the club had 80 members, she said, but as time went on and membership diminished, the group changed with the times. This year’s toy fund donation was made on behalf of its 19 members.

“We’re much less formal now,” Copper said.

While philanthropy is the club’s main goal, its members still make sure to read — they get to choose from a list of nonfiction and fiction books and do not have to read the same title at once. Twice a year, the club has “Read a Book Night,” according to Fusek, where members bring in as many books as they want “and give an old-fashioned book report.”

The following stores are accepting the vouchers 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. No. 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 www.gazettenet.com.

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