Illness challenges many Maine families during the holidays. Some of them reach out for help from the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund.

One applicant is a 34-year-old Cumberland County woman with four children, who recently was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been undergoing chemotherapy.

“So this has been a rough and depressed year,” she wrote in her application to the fund. “My husband had to quit his job painting to be home with me. The treatments are the worst. They put me in bed for sometimes two days.”

The woman said that her children don’t complain, but they know that their mom is sick and money is tight.

“All of our money goes to keep a roof over our heads,” the woman wrote. “The most I can pray for is that my children wake up Christmas morning with that twinkle in their eyes. They deserve so much more that I can’t give them.”

The Bruce Roberts Toy Fund has been receiving similar requests for 61 years. More than 2,000 families have applied already this year.

Since 1949, the fund has provided gifts for children in struggling families thanks to contributions from readers of The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram.

Last year, the fund set a record, raising nearly $260,000 for gifts, about $65,000 more than in 2008. Volunteers delivered gifts to about 7,200 youngsters in York, Cumberland, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Knox counties. The fund helped nearly 8,000 children in 2008.

The program began when Portland Evening Express editor Robert Bruce Beith, who wrote a column under the name Bruce Roberts, asked readers to help raise $1,000 so the paper could provide $1 gifts for underprivileged children.

He wrote the column at the urging of Matthew Barron, who was Portland’s assistant welfare director at the time.

Readers were touched by Beith’s request and started sending donations. By the time Christmas rolled around, $3,716 had been raised, and toys were distributed to 1,200 children in Portland and surrounding communities.

The tradition continues today. All of the money is used to buy quality age- and gender-appropriate gifts, such as dolls, board games and electronics.

One person who will receive gifts from the fund this year is a mother of three in Lincoln County who has been jobless since her 2-year-old twins were born. They have cystic fibrosis, an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive systems of about 30,000 people in the United States.

“This has made me a stay-at-home mom due to the care and treatments they both require,” the single mother wrote in her application to the fund. “We do receive income through Social Security, but between bills and sickness, there is not much left.”

Despite her financial hardship, she hopes to give her children a Christmas they will remember.

“If you could help,” she wrote, “it would be greatly appreciated.”


Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]