This holiday season marks the 70th year that the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund has been striving to make sure children across southern Maine have gifts to open on Christmas morning.

It was more than 50 years ago that the gift-giving program, then known as the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund, helped James Dobson’s family celebrate the holidays.

Dobson, of Portland, died unexpectedly on Nov. 1 at age 65. One of his seven siblings, Brian Dobson, is a code enforcement officer for the town of Scarborough, and his coworkers wanted to show sympathy for the Dobson family’s loss by making a memorial donation in James Dobson’s name.

The Scarborough Employee Club made the donation to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund.

“Brian let us know that, years ago, their family benefited from the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund at a time that was difficult for their mother to provide presents for their family of eight children,” wrote Heidi McNinch, the town’s human resources coordinator. “(Brian) remembers how the kindness shown them by the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund changed their lives for the better.”

Founded in 1949, the fund provides toys to thousands of Maine children who might otherwise not receive holiday gifts because of hardships faced by their parents. About 3,700 children benefited from the fund last year.


Supported by donations from readers and dozens of volunteers, the toy fund is accepting applications for help from needy families in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Androscoggin, Lincoln and Knox counties. The deadline for applications is Dec. 12 and toys are distributed to parents in the days before Christmas.

Despite a recent anonymous bequest of $23,000, donations to the fund toy have declined overall in recent years, from a high of $260,000 during the 2009-2010 holiday season, to $110,334 in contributions last year. Names of donors are published in the Press Herald unless a donor wishes to remain anonymous.

Kathleen Meade, executive director of the toy fund, said donations like the one made in James Dobson’s memory make a big difference.

“Every dollar counts,” Meade said. “We now have requests for over 2,500 kids this season. These donations help to bring joy into children’s lives.”

The gift-giving program began in December 1949 when Matthew I. Barron was Portland’s assistant welfare director. Barron knew that many local parents were struggling financially and that many of their children wouldn’t receive Christmas presents.

Barron reached out to a friend, Robert Bruce Beith, an editor at the former Portland Evening Express who wrote a news column under the pen name Bruce Roberts. The two men decided that Beith would ask his readers for donations and Barron would use the money to buy toys for children in need.

The Evening Express, a forerunner of the Press Herald, launched the effort on Dec. 9, 1949, under the headline, “What to do about it: 1,000 face Santa-less Christmas.” They raised nearly $4,000 the first year and provided gifts to more than 1,500 kids. Barron and Beith kept at it year after year, and the name Bruce Roberts became synonymous with the annual toy fund drive.

In memory of Skyrocket  $50
Jack McPhillips Memorial Fund  $200
Joe & Carole Long $200
Sarah & Alan Weinstein  $100
Anonymous  $100
Anonymous  $100
John &Diane Devlin  $50
God Bless the children & Merry Christmas to all! Andrew, Jordan & Mason  $50
Bill & Polly Vaughan  $100
In memory of David Kemmerer  $50
Ally & Dave Howe  $150
Laty  $30
In memory of Robert Peabody and Carolyn Blake Snyder  $100
Connie Brink  $25
In honor of our grandchildren, Ken Spirer & Joan Leitzer  $100
Anonymous  $300
In honor of my great grandparents, Irvin & Rachel Cyr  – Love, Grady  $15
Anonymous $50
In memory of Mike Woodhead, fron Sharon, Maggie, and Brian  $100
Love the work you do!  $50
Anonymous  $100
In memory of Elizabeth & Robert Booth  $150
My gift to you is to have a wonderful Christmas season  $20
Happy holidays from the Eck-Ray family! $200
Anonymous  $30
Merry Christmas! $20
Anonymous $26.50
In memory of Nana – Melissa  $30
Anonymous $20
Todd Avery and Gigi Thibodeau  $30
In memory of Jim Donahue from Audrey, Vivienne, Arlo, and Jeff Wark $50
For the children from Maynard Bean, Judith Bean, & Gabrielle Critchley $25
Ronald & Patricia Harwood  $50
Falmouth Lions Club  $200
From Santa’s Elves  $200
Herbert Taylor  $25
Marc & Martha Gagne  $100
Kathleen Potrepka  $25
In memory of John Ganem  $25
Ellen J McDonough  $200
In memory of James G Dobson from Scarborough Employee Club  $50
Portland Alpha Omicron Pi Alums  $25
In memory of Dr Ellsworth Reed  $250
To bring Joy to others from the Grands – Keili Curtis, Eliza Wright, and Nicholas Ham  $75
Merry Christmas in loving memory of David Poirier  $20
Westbrook Lions Club  $100
In memory of our mother Peggy McKinnon,who loved Christmas, from her children, Marijane, Penny, Tomi, Jack, & Bruce  $100
In memory of Richmond, John, Lorena, & William Knight; Marie, Gayle, & Red Crapser, Diana Grindle, & Hale’ Moreau  $100
Joan & Robert Nigro   $100
Francis M Fay  $100
Benny Maciag  $100
Nina & Edward Comiskey  $100
Lester & Anita Noyes  $50
Lorraine Pergenzer  $150
Christopher Newell  $100
YTD $27,866.50

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