The Portland Press Herald Toy Fund has been a Bancroft family tradition for more than five decades.

Janice Bancroft was just a little girl growing up in Portland in the 1950s and ’60s when her mother made annual donations to help the fund buy holiday gifts for local children whose parents could not afford presents.

“It wasn’t very much some years, because we didn’t have much. But she gave something every year,” Bancroft said.

Bancroft said her mother first learned about the charity through a connection to the original co-founder of the fund, Robert Beith. Beith was a former newspaper editor who wrote a column under the pen name Bruce Roberts and, starting in 1949, asked readers to donate money each December so that toys could be purchased for children in need. The full name of the toy fund still bears his name: The Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts.

Janice Bancroft, who now lives in Raymond, has been just as dedicated to the fund and has volunteered to help pack and distribute gifts for about 20 years. And when her son, Chad, turned 18 he started volunteering, too. They’ve been teaming up for 11 years.

Mother and son travel once a week to the Falmouth toy fund warehouse, where Chad is usually seen wearing a Santa hat.

The volunteer experience is a highlight of their Christmas, she said. Especially the part when they get to give out the presents to the parents who apply for help.

“You don’t have to have any other reward. They’re just so happy,” she said.

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.

The fund – 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 or picked up at the Press Herald’s Welcome Center at 295 Gannett Drive in South Portland. Call 791-6672 to have one mailed.

Donations can be made at 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.

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