Matthew I. Barron died in 1980. Robert B. Beith, in 1990.

But the legacy left behind by the two good friends continues to grow and has restored hope and brightened Christmas for generations of Maine children and their families.

That legacy is now known as the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund, and its story began in December 1949.

Barron was Portland’s assistant welfare director at the time and knew of many local families who were struggling and many local kids who were not likely to get any Christmas presents. Beith was editor of the Portland Evening Express and the author of a news column, and he wanted to help.

They decided that Beith would ask readers for donations and Barron would use the donations to buy toys for needy children. The Evening Express launched the effort on Dec. 9, 1949, with a headline that read, “What to do about it: 1,000 face Santa-less Christmas.”

Beith wrote his column using a pen name – Bruce Roberts – which was his middle name followed by his first name. Their idea worked, even better than expected, and that first year raised close to $4,000 and provided gifts to more than 1,500 kids. Barron and Beith kept at it year after year, and the name Bruce Roberts eventually became synonymous with the annual toy fund.

Eventually the Express would close and its sister paper, the Portland Press Herald, would keep the tradition going. The full name of the fund is now “The Portland Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts,” reflecting both the history and the staying power of the 66-year-old idea.

“The paper’s commitment to support the Toy Fund shall not waver,” said Lisa DeSisto, publisher of the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram. “From our employee-hosted potluck fundraising lunches to the steady stream of reader donations, we are happy to again provide toys to area children who otherwise would have none.”

Longtime donors and volunteers also continue to keep the history alive. An anonymous $25 donation, for example, arrived last week “in memory of Matthew Barron and Bruce Roberts.”

It’s a legacy that continues to bring great pride to Robert Beith’s family, said his son, Robert “Bob” Beith of Cape Elizabeth. Beith said it wasn’t important to his father to have his pen name attached, however.

“Everybody was proud of it, but he was kind of a person who wasn’t there for the limelight. He was very modest,” Beith said. “He was just glad they were able to start it and get the money and help some kids out.”

The man behind Bruce Roberts said as much in interviews before he died. He also said he never expected it to go on so long.

“I had no idea when I asked Matt Barron to help channel funds to those in need that so many people would volunteer to help,” Beith said in 1988. “Or that so many more people would keep the contributions rolling in with their only reward being the vision of children’s happy faces when they opened their presents, and their parents’ happiness in knowing that someone out there cares.”

His good friend at City Hall may have been less surprised, Beith suggested in a 1989 interview. “Matt Barron always said that the people of the area would never fail the fund drive.”

This year, the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund is using donations from readers to provide toys to about 7,000 Maine children who might otherwise not receive holiday gifts because of hardships faced by their parents.

The fund accepts applications for toys from needy families in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties. Applications can be downloaded at pressheraldtoyfund.org or picked up at the Welcome Center desk on the fifth floor of One City Center in Portland. Call 791-6672 to have one mailed to you.

Donations to help buy the toys can be made on the website 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.

The campaign’s fundraising goal this year is $250,000. The total raised so far is $88,650.30.

DONATIONS

In loving memory of our son James D. Wallace Jr. – Mom and Dad $100

Nancy and David Curit $75

From JOCIJIANNA, our 66th year! $500

Past Matrons Association of Corner Stone Chapter #193 O.E.S $15

In honor of Peter and Nancy Castonia, Santa & Mrs. Claus, from The Cumberland Community Nursery School $100

Merry Christmas from Patrick and Sharon Lee $100

In honor of Charlie McSwigin $100

In memory of Linda J. Doughty $100

Merry Christmas from Aubree $25

David Wheatland $100

The Southworth Products Family $125

In memory of Arthur C. Keene Jr. $100

Linda Hanscom $50

Craig Linscott $150

Merry Christmas! Paying it forward – CC Wright $25

Judy Benoit $100

Cynthia Frye-Macomber $50

Loons Haven Campground $100

Gail Mason $50

Frederick Haley $200

In honor of Nathan Eloian from David and Mark $100

In loving memory of Robert F. Leighton Sr. – Louise, Linda, Paul, Kathryn, Kevin, Rob, Charlene, Meliah, Jameson $50

In memory of James D. Wallace Jr. from Philip, Pat, Catherine Curran and Brendan and Mary Curran Tobin $100

To honor our grandfather, the Robert Beith who established The Bruce Roberts Toy Fund – Jane Wilbur Perlowski, Susan Wilbur $100

In memory of Nancy Foshay $100

Margaret Gautier $50

Merry Xmas – H. James Marshall Jr. $25

Falmouth Lions Club $200

In memory of Paul and Peg Garvin, Keith and Dee Libby, and Dean Barbalias, from Jack and Pat $100

Elizabeth Johnson $100

In memory of our grandson: Will Bedford $250

To honor Earl G. from G.N. $25

In memory of Eunice and Ken Foss $100

Merry Christmas! Kathy, Michael and Emily $50

In memory of Tommie C, Dad C and Dad O from the Ouillettes $25

Frederick Wallace $100

In the name of Kathryn Forbes $50

Merry Christmas to all $50

In remembrance of our dear friend’s mother, Henrietta “Henty” LaRou – Paul & Tracey Greenwood $200

Sevee & Maher Engineers Inc. $1000

Downtown Improvement District  $1,200

With love, Peter, Sarah, Sean and Tobin $500

Best Wishes to the children for a Merry Christmas – Richard and Jennifer Hubbell $200

In honor of Alanna, Sam, Jordan, Noah, Lara, Maria, Ethan, Dara, James, Meriwether, Finn and Oliver $240

In memory of EBA $125

KCV Trailer Rentals $150

For who needs it most $100

In memory of Goatie and The Rox, Love, Mya $100

In loving memory of my husband, George, who loved children and Christmas – A. Helena Jones $100

In memory of my mother and father and four sisters, who loved Christmas – A. Helena Jones $50

In memory of Ben Clough from his family $250

In memory of Tommy and Seamus Nee – The Clough Family $100

In loving memory of Gram, Papa and Tom – Patty, Kate, Hans and Neil $150

All children deserve joy during the holiday season $100

In memory of Barbara Schirmer $25

Merry Christmas! Nancy and Tim Dean $50

From Cassie and Grandfather $50

Cathy Holt $30

In memory of my mother $50

Merry Christmas – Ava, Will, Harper and Brayden $30

In memory of Frances Davis $50

In loving memory of Maurice, Margret and Kathy from Mike N. $50

From the Gorham Superintendent’s Office $140

From Hightower Advisors, Portland, ME $500

Today’s donations: $9,280

Year to date: $88,650.30

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