If reader donations are the lifeblood of the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund, then folks like Julie Pew are the muscle.

The gentle grandmother from Yarmouth is a faithful member of the army of volunteers who make sure readers’ donations bring joy to thousands of children each Christmas. Not even Pew herself knows how long she’s been on the job. “It’s been so many years, I can’t remember,” she said.

Pew volunteers one day a week from early November until late December. The season begins as a big reunion for the volunteers, many of whom have worked together for years in the toy fund warehouse.

Volunteers start by unpacking huge piles of boxes filled with new toys, crafts and electronics and sorting the gifts by the ages and genders of the children who will receive them. Then the toys are gathered and packaged for families in need who apply for help so their children don’t go without gifts to open at the holidays. Finally, Pew and the other volunteer “elves” get to hand out bags of gifts to mothers and fathers and grandparents. That’s always a highlight.

“It’s nice to meet them,” Pew said. “Most of them are very thankful for what we do for them.” Others are embarrassed that they have to come in, Pew said, although the volunteers do what they can to brighten the atmosphere. By the time the crews are distributing gifts, there are elf hats, reindeer antlers and lots of smiles.

“Toward the end, you get kind of silly,” Pew said. “It’s a very nice project.”

The Portland Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts is using donations from readers to provide toys to thousands of Maine children who might otherwise not receive holiday gifts because of hardships faced by their parents. Bruce Roberts was the original pen name of the newspaper columnist who co-founded the fund in 1949.

The fund – now in its 68th year – is accepting applications for toys from needy families in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Androscoggin and Knox counties.

Applications can be downloaded at pressheraldtoyfund.org or picked up at the Press Herald’s Welcome Center at 295 Gannett Drive in South Portland. Call 791-6672 to have one mailed to you.

Donations to help buy the toys can be made at pressheraldtoyfund.org or by writing checks to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund and mailing them to the fund at P.O. Box 7310, Portland, ME 04112.

For more information, go to: pressheraldtoyfund.org.

See more stories about the fund at pressherald.com/press-herald-toy-fund/.

Toy Fund donation list for Nov. 30, 2017: 

Karl & Barbara Albrecht $100

Anonymous $100

To honor my great-grandfather, Irvin Cyr. Love, Grady Dudley $10

In memory of Jeremy, who loved Christmas, from Jeremy’s mom $100

Karen Kurkjian & John Attwood $100

Anonymous $100

In memory of Constance Tripp $100

Merry Christmas to the children! Tim & Dot Whitney $50

Happy Holidays from Emily & Ben $100

Anonymous $100

Erin Hallett & Jeremy Rush $50

David K Thomas $20

Frank & Nancy Fowles $50

Anonymous $100

Anonymous $50

Anonymous $25

David & Kelly Smith $150

A Merry Christmas to all! David & Elaine Larsen & family $150

Anonymous $30

June Delano $50

In loving memory of Travis McDuffie from Pine State Elevator Company $100

Year to date: $15,791.00