PORTLAND — The Maine Red Claws and the Portland Pirates are helping to drum up donations for the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund.
Each of the pro sports teams has organized events that will help provide gifts to children in Cumberland, York, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Knox counties. The events are expected to generate several thousand dollars in donations.
“Holidays and toys – you really can’t go wrong with that. How can you not get behind that?” said Jana Spaulding, the Red Claws’ director of public and community relations.
Many readers of The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram would agree. The newspapers’ readers have been supporting the fund since 1949. That’s when Portland Evening Express editor Robert Bruce Beith, writing under the pen name Bruce Roberts, asked readers to join an effort to provide a $1 toy to each of the city’s 1,000 neediest children. The effort exceeded expectations by netting $3,716.
Nowadays, the Press Herald and Telegram use 100 percent of donations to support the toy fund. The fund buys toys in bulk and assembles them in age- and gender-specific gift packs. Last year’s effort brought in a record $260,000 in donations.
This year, the Red Claws, an NBA Development League team affiliated with the Boston Celtics and the Charlotte Bobcats, were involved in several events to benefit the toy fund.
In September, the Red Claws collected donations at an e-waste recycling drive in Portland. This month, the Red Claws held a 50/50 raffle at one of their games at the Portland Expo, with proceeds going to the toy fund.
Earlier this month, players and the team’s mascot, Crusher, were at Skillins Greenhouses in Falmouth to meet shoppers and sign autographs. Skillins donated $5 to the fund from every Christmas tree sold that day.
Tuesday night, Gritty McDuff’s Brewing Co. held a launch party for the team’s official beer – Red Claws Ale – with a portion of the proceeds from pints sold going to the fund.
The Bruce Roberts Toy Fund is the signature holiday cause this year for the Pirates, said Todd Jamison, director of corporate sales for the American Hockey League team, affiliated with the Buffalo Sabres.
“It’s a great, great program to be involved in. Hopefully, this is the start of a long relationship with Bruce Roberts,” Jamison said.
The Pirates have allowed teams including the Sun Tan City Ice Girls to solicit donations at four games. The fourth and final of those games is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Fans who donate at least $5 to the toy fund will receive two tickets to another game.
The toy fund does not solicit help from large organizations, relying instead on individuals who donate on their own or pool their resources through their workplaces, clubs or other groups, said Kathleen Meade, the fund’s director. Those groups include fraternal organizations, high school sports teams and locals of labor unions.
“It’s nice that groups get together and do this,” she said. “These big guys are following in the steps of the little groups who have been doing it for years.”
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]