The opening lyrics of Malinda Liberty’s age-old “The Maine Christmas Song” say, “There is meaning in the magic of Christmas in the state where the Christmas trees grow. It’s the spirit of giving, sharing, and caring … the spirit of Maine at Christmas time, from her mountains to her great Atlantic shore.”

The readers of this newspaper – and its sister publications, the Sun Journal and Times Record – have delivered the magic of Christmas. In a year when everything is upside down and unpredictable, you heeded our early call for help for the Press Herald Toy Fund. With funds at an all-time low, we began 2020 and entered the pandemic uncertain of what we would be able to deliver. With your donations we have been able to not only serve the increased volume of requests for toys, but also start 2021 on much better footing toward sustainability.

As I write, the fund has exceeded $250,000 in donations – the largest sum we have seen in years, a decade even. According to Jennifer Hutchins, executive director at the Maine Association of Nonprofits, “Clearly, it’s been a year of extremes, and for Maine nonprofits it’s no different: Some have seen big increases in donations as they ramp up to meet skyrocketing needs while others have been forced to lay off staff, pause all work indefinitely and, in some cases, close their doors permanently. We also know some donors recognize they have weathered the economic downturn, in some cases very well, and want to do what they can to help. I believe what we are witnessing is a marked increase in support along with a shift in priorities as communities are forced to respond to unprecedented needs.”

Maine’s generosity is showing for the Press Herald Toy Fund. Annual donors have stepped up big time, contributing more and encouraging their friends and families to also give. Our daily stories about the fund have been a source of inspiration. “I am so glad that the paper chose to do this in this difficult year.” “I am so glad to donate to help Maine families have some joy and thank you for providing a way to do this.” This season of giving has had the feeling of the good old days, with people enjoying the stories, seeing their own and familiar dedications on the pages of the paper (and on our website for those who prefer that medium). Not to mention Victoria Hugo-Vidal’s Nov. 15 Maine Millennial column about Christmas giving, reminding us that toys on Christmas are a delight to children, especially in times of need. Victoria’s humble request brought in dozens of donations. It is true that a little nostalgia is good for the soul – and fortunately for us, the children we serve.

Everything about our operation, led by Executive Director Kathleen Meade, was adapted to follow pandemic protocols to keep our staff and clients safe. The team set up at The Grange in Freeport provided plenty of space inside for spread-out package assembly by group leaders and hearty volunteers. Our volunteers stepped up with early donations and willingness to work both remotely and on-site. Curbside pickup enabled a safe and streamlined distribution of the toys. Volunteers who were housebound cheered us on and, at times, contributed energizing goodies to those doing the heavy lifting, working double time and then some. Thank you, volunteers, this work is impossible without your time and energy.

Our team will start 2021 on a path to continuing the tradition of the Press Herald Toy Fund, working in partnership with the Opportunity Alliance and our network of newspapers. Rest assured we will continue to publish the stories of the fund in hopes of delivering the magic of the season for years to come.

Thank you from all of us at the Press Herald Toy Fund.

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