Summer isn’t even over yet, but the Press Herald Toy Fund is already ramping up operations for the winter holidays.

Organizers are busy working behind the scenes to order toys and books, collect donations and prepare the South Portland workshop for another season of distributing gifts to Maine families with children in need of holiday cheer.

“The toy fund team has been hard at work getting ready for another great holiday season,” said Stefanie Manning, chief of staff for the Maine Trust for Local News and the toy fund’s board president. “We are especially excited to welcome our new operations manager, Jeff Ham, who will help us reach our goal of distributing more toys and books to more Maine families.”

Ham retired last year after more than 30 years as an editor for the Press Herald. He replaces Kathleen Meade, who served as the toy fund’s director for two decades before retiring this summer. During her tenure, she guided the toy fund through a recession and a global pandemic – times when the toy fund was an especially critical resource for Maine families facing new financial struggles.

During his time at the Press Herald, Ham often edited the stories that are published daily each holiday season about the toy fund and the families it serves. He said he jumped at the chance to work with the toy fund because he knows how much it has helped hundreds of families each year.

“I thought what better way to do retirement work than something that really does some good,” Ham said. “I’m excited to get going and learn my way through it.”


The toy fund provides gifts each holiday season to about 3,000 children from families in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Androscoggin counties. The need is likely to be just as great this year as families try to keep up with increasing costs for housing, groceries and other necessities.

The toy fund is continuing to partner with local businesses to purchase gifts and books. It also is looking to deepen its partnerships with community members interested in volunteering in the workshop or on the toy fund’s board of directors.

Ham said he has already heard from longtime enthusiastic volunteers who are geared up and ready to get back into the workshop as toys start to arrive and applications roll in. He encourages anyone interested in volunteering to apply at or by calling 791-6704.

“This is a great thing to volunteer for,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of fun. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Still known to many as the Bruce Roberts fund, the toy fund is now 73 years old. It began in 1949 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 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, 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.

As in years past, the toy fund is relying on the support of donors to ensure all of the families who apply for assistance receive holiday gifts this winter.

“The toy fund would not be possible without the ongoing generous support of readers who believe in its mission,” Manning said.

The toy fund is now accepting donations from readers and 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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