For more than seven decades, the Press Herald Toy Fund has provided a dose of cheer to children who might otherwise go without special gifts during the holiday season.

This year, the toy fund is continuing that tradition while shifting its purchasing operation to support the local economy by ordering toys and other gifts directly from Maine businesses. And for the first time, the fund will provide a new book for every child.

“The team has been hard at work getting ready for this year’s toy fund effort,” said Stefanie Manning, the newspaper’s group vice president for consumer marketing and the toy fund’s board president. “We are especially pleased to be able to keep the funds we raise in Maine by purchasing toys and books from local retailers and organizations.”

For many years, the toy fund had purchased toys from out-of-state wholesalers. This year, the charity ordered gifts through Reny’s, which has locations across the state, and handcrafted wooden toys from the Maine State Prison Showroom. Gifts also were purchased from Sherman’s Maine Coast Books, which has five locations in Maine, and from Catalyst for Change Wear, a local business that donates a portion of proceeds from every item sold to nonprofits and causes.

The books were ordered from Scholastic through Stevens Brook Elementary School in Bridgton. Principal Courtney Smith said that arrangement earns the school points it can use to buy books for classrooms and for students to take home.

Last year, the toy fund provided gifts to about 3,200 children from families in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Androscoggin counties. The need is likely to be just as great this year, if not larger, as families try to keep up with increasing costs for everyday expenses, said Kathleen Meade, the toy fund’s director.


“There are so many families in our service area that really don’t have options to pay for all of the expenses, plus giving their children gifts. If they decide to give their children gifts, something else is missing like food or paying bills on time,” Meade said.

The toy fund – still known to many as the Bruce Roberts fund – began 72 years ago when Portland Evening Express Editor Robert Bruce Beith, who wrote a column under the pen name Bruce Roberts, teamed up with Matthew Barron, Portland’s assistant welfare director, to help local parents who were unable to buy their children Christmas presents.

Since then, the toy fund has spent 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, illness or the death of a family member. Families of all religious faiths and traditions receive help.

The charity was taken on by the Press Herald when the Evening Express stopped publishing in 1990. The Brunswick Times Record and Lewiston Sun Journal, both of which have readers in communities served by the toy fund, also are partners in the annual gift drive.

The work of the Toy Fund would not be possible without the efforts of the volunteers who sign up each year to help, many of whom are recently retired or once depended on the Toy Fund for help providing gifts to their own children.

“We have such incredibly dedicated volunteers,” Meade said. “They came out even when many other places were losing volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are determined to help these kids.”


More volunteers are always welcome to join the effort to prepare and distribute packages to parents and guardians. This year, that work will be done at the Press Herald headquarters on Gannett Drive in South Portland.

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

To make a donation online, sign up to volunteer or apply for assistance, go to

Checks made out to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund may be mailed to 295 Gannett Drive, South Portland ME 04106. 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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