The Press Herald Toy Fund warehouse buzzed with activity Thursday as volunteers unloaded a truckload of toys that will soon bring joy to thousands of Maine children.

And even as the volunteers broke down pallets and sorted boxes, the fund braced for a flood of requests for help from families struggling through the pandemic and hoping to preserve some normalcy for their children at the holidays. The fund relies on donations from readers to buy gifts, and the fund has stepped up its requests for support.

“I’m a little nervous,” Toy Fund Director Kathleen Meade said at the end of a long day in the warehouse Thursday.

Meade said the longtime volunteers, including many retirees, have returned this year eager to work just as she expected, and hoped. In the middle of a pandemic that has otherwise limited trips outside their homes, it’s a reminder of how dedicated they are to the children they help, she said.

But the charity is still facing a big test in this historic year, when it may be needed as much as it ever has been since it was founded in the difficult winter of 1949.

Letters arriving from parents seeking help have already confirmed that the need is deep.

“The letters are heartfelt,” Meade said. “A lot of lost jobs, lost incomes and lost savings. A lot more people are essentially homeless because they are moving in with other people. … It’s tough out there.”

Chris Newell of Cape Elizabeth organizes boxes of toys for the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Anticipating the increased need, the toy fund this year partnered with the Sun Journal in Lewiston and The Times Record in Brunswick. The newspapers serve communities where families have long been helped by the toy fund, and now they are helping to spread the word about the need for help from donors.

The fund also launched an early fundraising drive this year, trying to reach new donors to join with supporters who in some cases have donated each year since the fund’s early days.

Nearly $4,000 has been raised so far, a significant start but also a reminder of how hard it may be to raise funds in this challenging holiday season.

Last year, the toy fund raised about $120,000 and provided gifts for 3,200 children in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Androscoggin, Lincoln and Knox counties. It’s not clear how many children need help this year, but it will be significantly more.

The early donations range from $10 and $20 personal checks to a $1,000 donation from the John T. Gorman Foundation, a Portland-based foundation that uses its gifts to improve the lives of Maine’s most vulnerable people.

“I think it’s a hopeful sign,” Meade said.

Starting next week, the Press Herald and other newspapers will begin listing the names of donors each day, along with stories about the families and the volunteers, and updates on the fundraising campaign.

To make a donation online or to download an application for assistance, go to pressheraldtoyfund.org.

Checks made out to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund may be mailed to P.O. Box 7310, Portland ME 04112. Names of donors are published in the Press Herald, the Sun Journal and The Times Record unless a donor wishes to remain anonymous.


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