Matthew Barron simply wanted to provide toys to 1,000 children in Portland who were facing a Christmas without gifts.

That impulse to help struggling families in the winter of 1949 would end up brightening the holidays for generations of children in southern and midcoast Maine.

What is now the Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts is still going strong and, this winter, has distributed toys to families across six Maine counties so that several thousand children will share in the joy of unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning.

Helping to start the fund was just one piece of a legacy left by Barron in the city he served.

Matthew Barron

Barron was Jesuit-educated, graduating from Cheverus High School in Portland and Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He went to work in the city’s welfare department in 1934 and two years later became assistant director. That’s the job he held that winter of 1949 and why he personally knew the families who had no money to buy gifts for their children.

He and his friend, Evening Express Editor Robert Bruce Beith, decided to ask newspaper readers for donations to buy toys. Beith made the appeals in a newspaper column written under the pen name Bruce Roberts. Barron bought and distributed the gifts.

Family members later recalled how Barron personally purchased and packaged the toys for years, sometimes working until midnight as the holiday approached to deliver toys to needy families.

Barron was promoted to welfare director in 1950. He also was named head of Portland’s City Hospital, which at the time was a gloomy complex known locally as “the poor farm.”

His wife, Evelyn, was a registered nurse and the Matron of Nurses at the hospital. Together, Matthew and Evelyn Barron had a vision of what the hospital could become and led its transformation into a modern nursing care institution for the elderly and handicapped. The Brighton Avenue facility was eventually renamed the “Matthew I. and Evelyn A. Barron Center.”

Barron retired in 1974. He later served on the City Council, including as mayor from 1976 to 1978.

And until he died in 1980, Barron remained the chairman of the toy fund and personally led the annual effort to brighten the holidays.

Now, nearly four decades after Barron’s death, donations arrive each year in his memory, including a check that comes from the staff of the former City Hospital known simply as the Barron Center.

Beith, the fund’s co-founder, would years later credit Barron with understanding not only the need for the charity, but also the community’s desire to help.

“Matt Barron always said that the people of the area would never fail the fund drive,” Beith said.

THE PRESS HERALD TOY FUND in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts uses 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. Now in its 69th year, the fund is accepting applications for toys from needy families in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Androscoggin, Lincoln and Knox counties.

DONATIONS to help buy the toys can be made at pressheraldtoyfund.org 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.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, call 791-6672 or go to: pressheraldtoyfund.org.

SEE MORE STORIES about the fund at pressherald.com/press-herald-toy-fund/.

TODAY’S DONATIONS

Addison, Preston and Moses $100

Anonymous $25

In loving memory of Harold & Theo Moxcey – C, K, & S $50

08, IF FITS – Carole, Kim and Steph $25

Anonymous! $100

Anonymous $50

In memory of Ella & Bick $25

In loving memory of Jack, Stephen and Mary Hines, and Eddie and Bessie Harrigan, from the family $25

In memory of Tommie C., Dad C., and Mom and Dad O. $25

Elizabeth Shively $25

“Merry Christmas to all the children” Jeff and Hope $100

Alison and Anton Lahnston $50

Merry Christmas!! Charlie & Cathy Toppi $50

Wish I could do more… $30

In memory of Alphonse and Annette Dupuis. They lived their lives for their children. $100

Ruth Yates $100

In memory of Deb & Brian Kroot. From Jase, Trav, Lex, Dani and the pups $250

In honor of Pat and David $25

Year to date: $93,081