A young mother from Bristol wrote to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund, asking for help with providing gifts for her four young children for Christmas.

Her husband worked as a machinist in midcoast Maine, but left his job after 11 years because their health insurance deductible was too high.

He now works as a pipe fitter in Bath. But with Christmas less than four weeks away, he won’t earn enough money to buy presents.

In a phone interview, the 32-year-old stay-at-home mom said she’s been rolling change and returning bottles and cans for extra money.

She said she was reluctant to fill out the application to the toy fund, but set her pride aside for her kids. It was her first time applying.

“I felt embarrassed to fill it out, but I know it’s for them,” she said.

“I want them to have the magic of Christmas. They know what Christmas is all about. It’s not all about the gifts, but when it comes down to it – it’s the magic.”

The toy fund, now in its 66th year, keeps the magic alive at Christmas.

The fund provides gifts for 5,000 to 7,000 children across York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties.

The fund uses donations from readers to buy toys for kids who might not otherwise receive a gift for Christmas.

So far, the toy fund has received more than 2,000 applications from families seeking help this holiday season.

Kathleen Meade, the fund’s executive director, urged families to apply sooner rather than later to give volunteers enough time to package gifts.

The deadline to apply is Dec. 15.

“Our goal is to make sure kids are happy during the holidays,” Meade said. “Our volunteers are here and they are great. … If (parents) apply, we can help relieve the pressure.”

This time of year can be especially difficult for families facing hardships. While some Mainers are getting a boost this holiday season from lower gas prices, decreased heating costs and new jobs, the need has never been greater.

Many parents are still strapped by rising health care costs, stagnant wages and the pressure to meet their child’s expectations.

Sandra Kienstra, a family case manager at Pejepscot Head Start in Topsham, sees that struggle.

This year, she received 12 applications for the toy fund out of the 24 families it serves.

“For some, it comes down to putting food on the table or gifts under the Christmas tree,” Kienstra said. “Am I going to get a coat for my child or a couple of toys? This helps them to put a couple of toys under the tree.”

The toy fund has been helping Mainers since 1949. It used to be known as the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund, a reference to the pen name of an editor at the Portland Evening Express who started the program.

The name changed a couple of years ago, but its mission is still the same.

Volunteers have been hard at work collecting donations, sorting toys and helping families. Several volunteers will hand out applications and accept donations at Portland’s annual tree lighting, at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Meade said this year’s fundraising goal is $250,000.

“We haven’t made that in a while,” she said.

Donations can be made on the website or checks can be made out to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund and mailed to P.O. Box 7310, Portland, ME 04112.

Parents can download applications at brucerobertstoyfund.org, or pick one up at the Press Herald offices on the fifth floor at One City Center in Portland. Arrangements will be made to get the gifts to the applicants.

Thanks to donations from our readers and the extraordinary work by Meade and her staff of volunteers, the four young kids from Bristol will have presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

“My 12-year-old is questioning, but still wants to believe,” the mom said.

filed under: