The Portland Press Herald Toy Fund is gearing up for its 69th year of bringing joy to thousands of Maine children the holiday season.

Volunteers are busy unpacking boxes of dolls, stuffed animals, electronics and other new toys for kids to open during the holidays.

The toy fund – supported by donations from readers – provides toys to thousands of Maine children who might otherwise not receive holiday gifts because of hardships faced by their parents.

The fund is accepting applications for toys from needy families in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Androscoggin, Lincoln and Knox counties.

So far, volunteers have received more than 1,500 applications for assistance. The deadline to apply to the toy fund is Dec. 12.

Executive Director Kathleen Meade said the fund is on track to provide gifts to an estimated 1,800 to 2,000 families this holiday season.

“There’s a lot of needy families in the state of Maine,” Meade said in a phone interview Friday. “They may be hidden from people’s view, but they are definitely there.”

The toy fund, known by many readers as the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund, was named for an editor at the newspaper who wrote a column under the pen name Bruce Roberts.

In December 1949, Matthew Barron, then Portland’s assistant welfare director, knew of many families struggling and kids who weren’t likely to get any presents for Christmas.

Robert Beith, a columnist and editor of the Portland Evening Express, wanted to help. So he wrote a column asking readers for donations that would be used to buy gifts for children for Christmas. The first year raised nearly $4,000 and provided gifts to more than 1,500 kids.

While much has changed over the years, the fund’s mission has remained the same – to brighten the holidays for thousands of kids across the state.

Last year, the fund raised $130,370 and provided gifts to 3,674 children.

Organizers set a goal to raise $200,000 this year through donations from readers and Press Herald events such as a potluck lunch and book sale.

Meade is launching a new fundraiser, the Toy Fund Tree Festival. She is looking for donations of decorated trees that will be raffled off to raise money for the fund. There will be a series of holiday events Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 at Freeport Harraseeket Grange No. 9. For more information, call 791-6672.

This year, organizers are anticipating an increase in the number of families asking for assistance. Meade said she has seen a spike in the number of requests for gifts for grandchildren. Many children across the state have gone to live with their grandparents because of the opioid epidemic or imprisonment.

To request an application or make a donation, go to pressheraldtoyfund.org. Donations can also be made by writing a check to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund and mailing it to P.O. Box 7310, Portland, ME 04112.

 

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