BRUNSWICK — Signaling what appears to be the definitive end to the 50-year-old charity, volunteers from Brunswick’s Santa Claus Fund on Tuesday donated the organization’s entire toy inventory to the Waterville-based Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers.

The mood was somber as volunteers from the Brunswick-based group boxed up hundreds of toys, mittens, puzzles books and games stored in a sweltering Fort Andross storage unit.

“It’s the end of an era,” said Nancy Campbell, fund secretary.

The Santa Claus Fund donated an entire storage unit of toys to the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers on Tuesday. The Santa Claus Fund announced this month that it is dissolving after more than 50 years. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

The Santa Claus Fund, started in 1967, helps provide gifts to children 13 years old and younger in Brunswick, Harpswell, Litchfield, Topsham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Richmond, Woolwich, Arrowsic, Georgetown, Bath, West Bath and Phippsburg.

Last Christmas, the group helped more than 300 children from over 160 families and raised roughly $25,000, chairperson Bob Thiboutot said earlier this year.

Thiboutot, 76, announced his retirement in June and said the work was “getting to be too many hours for me,” estimating that in last year’s season alone, which runs from September through Christmas with a break in October, he probably put in at least 500 hours.

Since 1985, the Santa Claus Fund has worked with 10,830 families, 20,354 children and received over $1.1 million in donations, he said. Volunteers have dedicated thousands of miles and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of hours, he said.

The group announced its search for a director in June and said in no uncertain terms that “if we cannot find a suitable replacement chairperson, we will have to fold,” something Campbell said would be “heartbreaking for us and devastating for a large number of local struggling families.”

But despite their best efforts, nobody stepped forward.

It was not until news broke that the fund had started the official process of dissolving that “people came out of the woodwork” offering to take up the mantle, Thiboutot said earlier this week, but by then it was too late.

Kevin Campbell packs up a box of toys from the Santa Claus Fund storage unit in Brunswick to donate to the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers. Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record

While not able to take over the fund itself, Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers in Waterville took the Santa Claus Fund’s inventory to add to its own Christmas program.

“This is a great thing they’re doing,” program head John Veilleux said.

The program is not limited to just Waterville, and serves nearly 1,800 children annually from York to Fort Kent. Veilleux estimated the organization provides gifts to over 200 children in Brunswick and more in the Bowdoin and Bowdoinham area.

Veilleux and roughly 30 volunteers make sure each child on the list receives a full outfit, a set of pajamas, a large and a small toy, a coloring book and crayons, socks and underwear, two sets of hat and mittens, a family board game and a winter coat and boots if the family requests it.

It’s a time-consuming job, and Veilleux, who has been at the helm since 1982, starts working Sept. 1 and does not stop until Jan. 30. He goes to Toys for Tots, toy manufacturers like Playskool and businesses like Home Depot for donations. When Kmart announced its closure, he bought all the children’s socks and underwear in the store. He applies for grants and participates in several fundraising campaigns, all to make sure children and their families can have a merry Christmas.

The missions of the two organizations are closely aligned, and the application process is very similar, though Campbell said the Maine Children’s Home’s screening process is more rigorous.

People who want to donate toys or money for local children, or who may need assistance this holiday season, are encouraged to reach out to the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers.

There are other local organizations offering help, including the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving and Christmas Assistance Program, the Harpswell Santa Fund, the Tedford Housing Christmas Store and the Portland Press Herald’s Bruce Robert’s Toy Fund.

The Brunswick Santa Claus Fund said it would like to thank Cumberland Self Storage, Reny’s, Taste of Maine, United Bikers of Maine, Joshua’s Tavern, and the Brunswick Elks Lodge #2043, and the Bath Elks Lodge #934 for their help and support over the years.

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