It started with a simple newspaper column.

“What to do about it: 1,000 face Santa-less Christmas,” was the headline in the Portland Evening Express that day, Dec. 9, 1949. Bruce Roberts was the columnist’s byline.

A humble beginning, to be sure, for what would become an annual tradition that has brightened the holidays for hundreds of thousands of Maine children over the past seven decades.

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 an Evening Express column using the pen name Bruce Roberts, his first and middle names reversed.

Matthew Barron

His close friend was Matthew Barron, a graduate of Cheverus High School in Portland who worked his way up the ladder in the city’s welfare department, eventually becoming head of the department and, with his wife, was running Portland’s City Hospital, now known as the Matthew I. and Evelyn A. Barron Center. Barron also eventually became Portland’s mayor.

That winter of 1949, Barron came to Beith with a problem, and an idea: A lot of Portland children were not going to receive holiday gifts that year because their parents were struggling during an economic recession, and newspaper readers might be willing to help.


Beith published his column asking for help. Readers donated close to $4,000 – enough to provide gifts to more than 1,500 kids. And the rest is history.

Bruce Roberts would become synonymous with the annual toy drive. And the charity would outlive both men, as well as the Evening Express.

Robert B. Beith

And Barron’s simple idea has always worked, year after year.

The full name of that annual charity is now the Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts.

So far this year, more than 1,000 readers have donated more than $150,000 to buy toys and books for children in need. The Toy Fund expects to serve more than 3,000 children in southern, central and midcoast Maine.

Donations continue to arrive at the Toy Fund each year in honor of Barron and Beith.


Beith credited Barron with understanding not only the need for the charity, but also the community’s desire to help.

“Matt Barron always said that the people of the area would never fail the fund drive,” Beith said.

And newspaper readers continue to prove him right.

To make a donation online, 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.



(note: some donations include an additional amount to cover transaction fees)

Merry Christmas to all!  Erika B Taylor     $31.87

Happy Holidays!              Celia, Owen, Finn, Molly, Easton, Clara, Gavin    $210.73

In memory of Rita Baltas who loved Christmas.   Ted Baltas               $50

In memory of Harry Burnham     Ted Baltas           $50


In memory of Tommy who loved to make children smile. Tim and Mary           $52.91

Happy Christmas to kids everywhere!     Denise K.              $131.82

#10 of the 12 C’s                           $126.56

In Memory of Jane & Frank Nanos, Aunty Cheryl, Uncle Paul & Bob “Nub” Barrows Love Becky, Tommy & Madison                        $131.82

Donald E Starr & Serena Wakelin Starr    $263.33

In memory of Ed Conroy and Jimmy Wallace        Sean Conroy              $1,052.39


Anonymous       $26.61

Bridget Sylvester             $210.73

Nelson Property Services             $1,052.39

To honor my co-workers              $105.52

Anonymous       $105.52

Happy holidays and thanks for all you do!             #6 of the 12 C’s           $126.56


Merry Christmas!                          $52.91

Donation made in the name of Russ and Patty Stogsdill                 $105.52

Anonymous       $105.52

Linda Burns        $105.52

Merry Christmas from the FALALAS         FALALAS              $210.73

For the children          $52.91


From # 1 of the 12 C’s    Peter Carlin        $126.56

Merry Christmas and God bless!!                           $158.12

Suzie & Kerry McCormack           $210.73

Anonymous       $100

In memory of John and Mary Frances O’Neil                      $105.52

In memory of Daphne, Slinky, Twilley and Buzz    Jill              $105.52


In memory of Mr. & Mrs. Bernard L. Harkins        Daughter              $111.33

In memory of Jane Bridges Langley Warren          Warren family              $31.87

In memory of Mary E. Maguire   Maureen Allen  $100

In memory of Nieley      Robert Morse    $100

TOTAL TO DATE:   $155,334.40

Comments are not available on this story.