Bruce Roberts would be pleased.

That name is well known to the longtime supporters of what is officially called The Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts. Many of them still refer to the charity as the Bruce Roberts Fund. Donations arrive in his memory each year, including one this week from an anonymous admirer.

Robert B. Beith

Bruce Roberts was actually Robert Bruce Beith, who decades ago worked his way up from a Portland newspaper reporter to editor to publisher. For many years, he wrote a newspaper column using the pen name Bruce Roberts, his first and middle names reversed.

It was a column he wrote in December 1949 that, in time, would become a lasting legacy and brighten the holidays of generations of Maine children and their families.

Beith’s friend Matthew Barron, Portland’s assistant welfare director, came to Beith with a problem: A lot of Portland children were not going to receive holiday gifts that year because their parents were struggling during an economic recession.

That led to a Bruce Roberts column in The Evening Express on Dec. 9, 1949, under the headline, “What to do about it: 1,000 face Santa-less Christmas.”

Beith and Barron plotted that if readers donated a little money, Barron could buy toys for 1,000 children. In fact, readers donated close to $4,000 – enough to provide gifts to more than 1,500 kids.

Matthew Barron

Barron and Beith kept at it year after year, and the name Bruce Roberts eventually became synonymous with the annual toy drive. The fund eventually was inherited by the Press Herald when the Express folded in 1991.

And the fund continued even after the two friends died, Barron in 1980 and Beith in 1990.

Near the end of his life, Beith said he never expected so many readers would “keep the contributions rolling in with their only reward being the vision of children’s happy faces when they opened their presents, and their parents’ happiness in knowing that someone out there cares.”

Last year, readers donated more than $250,000. The charity that began on a hunch in 1949 brought joy to 3,500 children in the midst of global pandemic. And it’s gearing up to do it again in the coming days, thanks to reader donations that are still “rolling in.”

Donations from readers of the Portland Press Herald, the Sun Journal in Lewiston and The Times Record in Brunswick allow the toy fund to provide gifts to thousands of children in need in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Androscoggin and Knox counties. To help, go to pressherald.com/toy-fund.

TODAY’S CONTRIBUTIONS

In loving memory of Susan Jean Stevens. We miss you so much. Love, Dad, Mom, Rick, Eric, Tim $100
Brendan and Pippin $30
In memory of my parents – Adrian & Claudette Gagnon $50
In memory of our amazing parents and cherished family memories. Deborah Hall and Clay Graybeal $50
From Joan & Skip $100
In memory of Bruce Roberts! $100
In loving memory of Scott from Lindsay $25
Noel M. Dunn $25
Anonymous $150
In memory of my Dad, from Donald Hawkes Jr. $100
Ethel & Ronald Phinney $25
Patricia & Oliver Andrews $50
Anonymous $200
In memory of Red & Dot Swett $100
In memory of our parents, John & Peggy McKinnon, from their children: Marijane, Penny, Jack, Tomi and Bruce. $100
Anonymous $100
Carol & Brian Keroack $100
Anonymous $200
In memory of Mary Quinn Kelley $200
Anonymous $300
Deborah & George Mehm $100
In memory of Ann Waterhouse $60
Michael Dudley $50
Anonymous $25
Clayton Hoak $75
Charles & Ann Garland $200
Teresa Messer $125
In memory of those no longer with us … thank you! $100
Falmouth Lions Club $200
Joan & Robert Nigro $100
Nancy & Arthur Lynch $25
In memory of Maggie, Joe and the Girls $45
Martha Taylor $100
Lynn Russell-Johnson $40
James & Elizabeth Maier $200
In loving memory of Cliff & Gerry Ashley, from their daughter Joan $25
In memory of Vi and Frank $200
Patricia & F.D. Buttner $50
From the Fricke family in memory of Herbert H. Fricke $125
For the children, in honor of my grandsons, Ethan and Owen $50
Anonymous $20
Sam, AJ, & Charlotte $100
In memory of Seth Jordan $100
Edward & Nina Comiskey $100

TOTAL TO DATE: $70,829

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