Bob Thiboutot, former executive director of The Santa Claus Fund, presents Grace Jandro, philanthropy coordinator for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program, with a check. The organization donated its remaining funds to four Maine nonprofits on Wednesday, its final charity act before disbanding. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — As the group’s “final act of charity,” The Santa Claus Fund donated the rest of its cash holdings, over $65,000, to four local nonprofits in a small ceremony Wednesday. 

Tedford Housing, Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program, Bath Area Food Bank and Maine Children’s Cancer Program each received $16,600; something former secretary Nancy Campbell said was “bittersweet.”

“It was sad to have to close our doors, but we are happy to see the results of our effort carried on with other nonprofit organizations that do so much for our community,” she said in an email. 

After more than five decades of helping local families put Christmas gifts under the tree, The Santa Claus Fund Inc. announced Sept. 13 that it was dissolving after a fruitless search for a new chairperson and a dwindling volunteer base. 

A little over a week later, the group donated its entire toy inventory to the Waterville-based Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, an estimated $17,000 value, according to Campbell. 

Karen Parker, director of Midcoast Hunger, and Kimberly Gates, director of Bath area food bank, both said their organizations were in the midst of the busiest year either has seen. 

“This is an incredible gift to us at this time of year,” Parker said. 

Grace Jandro, philanthropy coordinator for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program, said that while she was sad to hear The Santa Claus Fund dissolved after so many years, the group touched thousands of lives and their “good work will continue through the funds given to these organizations today.” 

The Santa Claus Fund, started by The Times Record in 1967, helped 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.

Bob Thiboutot, former director of The Santa Claus Fund, announced his retirement in June. “It’s sad, but it’s time,” he said Wednesday. Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record

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.” 

Despite their best efforts, nobody stepped forward. 

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. 

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

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.

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