December 19, 2011

Bruce Roberts Toy Fund: Then and now, donors buoy children's belief

A volunteer wants today's kids in need to get the same help she once got.

By Melanie Creamer
Staff Writer

There comes a point in every young person's life when they begin to question the existence of Santa Claus.


GIFT PACKS: The Bruce Roberts Toy Fund uses donations from readers of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram to buy gifts for children in need, then distributes the gifts. The fund serves Cumberland, York, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Knox counties. Gift packs, for children 18 and younger, contain items appropriate to each child’s age and gender.

CONTRIBUTIONS: Send donations to the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund, P.O. Box 7310, Portland, ME 04112. Checks should be made out to the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund. Contributions are also accepted at the newspaper’s offices on the fifth floor at One City Center in Portland and online at _fund.html. Donations of securities are also accepted.

DONORS: Names of donors will be published in the Press Herald/Telegram and listed online.

For Virginia Cushing, that moment came at age 7, when she noticed she didn't get the same kinds of toys and gifts that her classmates got for Christmas.

"I couldn't understand at that age why we didn't get things that other kids got," Cushing said on Thursday. "I thought, 'Why didn't Santa bring us those things?' It led me to the fact well, maybe there isn't a Santa Claus."

The same thought crossed the mind of 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon, who in 1897 wrote a letter to a New York newspaper, The Sun, asking if Santa was real. Her letter became the subject of a celebrated newspaper editorial that contained the famous reply, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

Just before Christmas in 1949, Cushing sat down to write a letter that she thinks her mother mailed to the Portland Evening Express. It was the year editor Robert Bruce Beith, who used the pen name Bruce Roberts, asked readers to each donate $1 for toys for the city's neediest children.

In her letter, Cushing recalled writing that she didn't believe in Santa Claus and questioned whether he was real.

As it turned out, she woke up that Christmas morning to presents under the tree. She remembers the feeling of getting a doll from Santa.

"I remember having a huge grin on my face," she said. "It was probably one of the better Christmases I had, because of that letter. It was made possible by people who cared about children believing in Santa Claus. It's a magical time of year and everyone should experience that magic."

Cushing didn't know it then, but her mother turned to the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund for help. For the past 62 years, the charity has been serving families in need by providing toys for children during the holidays.

Cushing, now 70, is giving back to the toy fund that once restored her faith in the magic of Christmas. She and her husband, Donald Cushing, have been volunteering for the past two seasons.

She talked on Thursday about the hardships her family faced when she was growing up. Cushing's mother was raising four young children on her own with little or no help. Her mother worked hard, but money was tight, especially during the holidays.

"Sometimes there wasn't enough to eat. Sometimes we didn't have the proper clothes for winter. She did the best she could with what she had," she said.

This holiday season, thousands of families with hardships like unemployment, illness, poverty or divorce applied to the toy fund for help.

This year the fund is providing toys and gifts to about 7,500 kids of all ages in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties.

Cushing said she is moved by the struggle and courage of parents who have picked up gifts at the Bruce Roberts warehouse. She said the parents are so grateful for the help.

She remembered one woman saying, "If it wasn't for Bruce Roberts, my son wouldn't have a Christmas." Another parent said, "Thank you for what you're doing. We appreciate this so much."

"It brings it home to what Christmas is all about," Cushing said. "I leave there sometimes teary-eyed. In a lot of cases, this is all the children will get for Christmas."

"For the ones who still believe, we want to keep that hope alive for as long as we can," she said. "I still want to believe. I love Santa Claus."

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:


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