For decades, the annual donation Harry and Lois Carlin of Windham made to the Press Herald Toy Fund arrived like clockwork with a note that it was from “the 12 Cs.”

The Carlins, whose lives were marked by a quiet generosity, gave $120 to the newspaper’s toy fund each year in place of Christmas gifts for their 12 children, now grown. They started the tradition around 30 years ago.

“They were both very humble and always supporting children,” said their daughter Theresa Labrecque. “After raising the 12 of us and feeling fortunate, they would pass on their gifts to other kids.”

After Lois Carlin died in 2010, her husband continued his annual gifts. Harry Carlin, a Korean War veteran and farmer who liked to call his children his best crop, died last November at age 87. He asked that his children distribute some of his estate to the charitable organizations he supported, including the toy fund.

The “12 Cs” honored their father’s request with a $20,000 donation to the toy fund in the spring and a pledge that they will continue making their own donations each year for the next 20 years. Labrecque said their parents raised them to be generous to others and always share what they have.

“They didn’t have a lot, but anything extra they had they were willing to give away to someone who needed it more,” she said. “They never looked for any attention for their good deeds. They were humble and gave from the generosity of their hearts.”


Lois and Harry Carlin Courtesy of the Carlin family

The toy fund relies on that kind of generosity to provide holiday gifts to children in five counties. In 2020, it raised more than $250,000 for gifts for children from York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Androscoggin counties.

Last year was a remarkable one for the toy fund, with volunteers distributing gifts to nearly 3,500 children while adjusting to the challenge of operating during a pandemic, said Kathleen Meade, the fund’s director. Volunteers masked up and switched to curbside pickup, which they will do again this year.

The toy fund also expanded its reach to donors last year by teaming up with the Sun Journal in Lewiston and The Times Record in Brunswick, which are both based in communities it serves. Those partnerships will continue this year.

Meade said the Toy Fund is likely to see more applications this year from families who are facing income loss or eviction because of the pandemic. Many who apply are minimum-wage earners or single parents who were already struggling before the extra stress of the pandemic, Meade said.

Stefanie Manning, the newspaper’s group vice president for consumer marketing and the toy fund’s board president, said the pandemic has highlighted the continued need in the community and important role the toy fund plays in providing gifts and bringing joy to Maine children. It also has reenergized the organization to ensure that the toy fund is sustainable with the ongoing support of readers, she said.

The toy fund began 71 years ago when Matthew Barron, Portland’s assistant welfare director, and Portland Evening Express Editor Robert Bruce Beith teamed up to help local parents who were struggling financially and unable to buy their children Christmas presents. Beith, who wrote a column under the pen name Bruce Roberts, asked readers for financial donations, and Barron used that money to buy toys, which parents gave to their children.


The campaign, still known by many as the Bruce Roberts fund, was launched on Dec. 9, 1949, under the headline, “What to do about it: 1,000 face Santa-less Christmas.”

Since then, the toy fund has used millions of dollars in donations from readers to buy toys for hundreds of thousands of children who otherwise would not receive gifts because of lost jobs, divorce, domestic violence or the illness or death of a family member. Families of all religious faiths and traditions receive help.

The toy fund is now accepting applications from families in need of assistance that have children up to 16 years old.

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

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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