From the publisher: Holiday spirit sustained year-round by toy fund

Heartfelt thanks to all of you who donated, from the anonymous $1 gifts to the $2,020 from SAD 51 students.

In 1949, Portland’s welfare director, Matt Barron, ran into Robert Beith, sports editor of the Evening Express, in Monument Square. As the story goes, Barron handed Beith a dollar bill and challenged him to find a way to help local families who couldn’t afford gifts for the holiday season.

Beith got to work, arranging for his newspaper and the city’s morning paper, the Portland Press Herald, both of which were then owned by Guy Gannett, to start a fund that would solicit donations from readers.

That first year, the newspapers received more than $2,000 in donations. The Bruce Roberts Toy Fund was born.

The name “Bruce Roberts” comes from a combination of the names of Robert Beith’s two children – Brucina and Robert. Over the years, the fund gradually expanded well beyond Portland. Today, it provides toys for 7,000 children in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties.

The fund accepts applications from needy families, who then pick up unwrapped toys before the holidays. Each day from Thanksgiving to Christmas, we publish letters we receive from applicants – without their names – as well as a daily roster of the generous donors.

The toy fund was in danger of fading away when the newspaper was struggling a few years ago. In 2012, we recommitted ourselves to giving the toy fund more visibility in the paper and on our website.

At the same time, we changed the name of the fund to the “Portland Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts,” in order to underscore the newspaper’s commitment to serving the community. This season, we’ve held several fundraising events, including an employee cookie contest (congratulations to winner Dave LaFortune), an evening at the Victoria Mansion and special nights with the Pirates and Red Claws.

As of Wednesday, the tally for this year’s fund was inching close to $100,000. I’m confident that your generous donations will put us over this milestone.

Heartfelt thanks to all of you who donated, from the $1 anonymous donations to the $2,020 contributed by students of School Administrative District 51 through teacher Jeff Brookes’ annual penny drive. Students at the Ocean Avenue School in Portland and the Brown and Skillin schools in South Portland also made group contributions.

This year, I learned of a group of friends who have donated to the fund since it began 65 years ago. We know them only as JOCIJIANNA, which we believe represents the first initial of the name of each member of the original group. You know who you are, and we salute the longevity of your donation.

The toy fund board is made up of Press Herald employees who donate their time and talents to ensuring that the fund continues. Another 100-plus volunteers support the toy fund by sorting toys, organizing the application process and helping out at fundraising events, all under the watchful eye of the fund’s executive director, Kathleen Meade. Our oldest volunteer (who, like many involved in the fund, wishes to remain anonymous) turned 85 this year – let’s just call her “Mrs. Claus.”

From the beginning, the toy fund has respected the confidentiality of the people we serve. The discreet distribution of gifts allows the parents (or Santa) to be the hero in the eyes of their children. It’s a tradition Jolly Old St. Nick would endorse.

The money we raise this year will be used to purchase presents next year. Just like the elves at the North Pole, we have to secure our inventory early.

As you look around your holiday celebration Thursday morning and give thanks for the gifts bestowed upon your family, please consider donating to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund, which proudly operates in the spirit of Bruce Roberts.

Donations can still be made at pressheraldtoyfund.org or by mail to P.O. Box 7310, Portland, ME 04112.

Warmest wishes to you and your families this holiday season from everyone at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Lisa DeSisto is the publisher of the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram.

From JOCIJIANNA – Our 65th year!! $500

From Broadreach PR on behalf of our clients $200

From Kirsten, Lauren, Ella, Annie and Liam $50

Dianne Goodrich $100

Marguerite Ryan $100

In loving memory of Mildred, Roy, Phil & Tommy – we love you , The Casasa Family $300

Order of AHEPA Portland Chapter, Thank You for what you do!.. $275

In Loving Memory of Lynette Feeney from Martin Feeney $100

Jane S. Moody $100

Peter Murray $100

Daniel Richards $100

Brian Paradis $25

In Memory of Sally Lynn who loved Christmas and the Season $30

From Hunter and Jasper $25

In memory of Jeff, Love Mum $100

Anonymous $50

In memory of Susan from Sheila Moran $25

In memory of our Grammie Hamblen – Love Russ, Jodi and Andy $15

In memory of my brothers – Keith N. Hamblen and Henry W. Hamblen Jr. – Love Marcena $30

Ben Odom $100

Carroll Tiernan $50

In memory of Jeanne and Jerry Mayberry $25

In memory of Chester from Arrolyn Gilbert $20

Kathryn Davis $25

For US Service Personnel from the Vandenheuvel – Mui’s $50

Hope Creighton $100

The Anderson Family $30

Evelyn Zaciewski $50

In loving memory of John, Alice and Helen Flaherty from Alicia $50

From Richard & Paula in honor of our five grandsons $30

Charles Kayajian $50

In loving memory of my grandfather Havilah E. Hinman, Deering High School Class of ’25. Peter Gibson $100

Merry Christmas from Eleanor $30

John Kazenski $100

In memory of Ralph and Barbara Patterson $25

Anonymous $26

Brenda Houdlette $25

In gratitude for the abundance in my life from Joanna Leary $40

Anonymous $50

Happy Holidays ! $10

In memory and honor of our parents from Richard and Jennifer Hubbell $200

Peace & Joy! Madison, Nicholas & Ryan Buckley $150

Merry Christmas from the Lennigs $50

On Behalf of Unum’s NCG Implementation Team $50

Anonymous $100

In memory of Uncle Don $150

For my granddaughter, Jordan Martindale from Phyllis Carsten-Boyle $50

Merry Christmas from the Ward – Zaccaria Family $50

Because I can – Michelle Prejean $50

For kids that aren’t as lucky as ours from Drew Graham $300

The kids who thrive despite trauma and adversity $70

Proceeds from the 50/50 at The Red Claws game Dec. 20th $353

Candy & book sale $451

From Ken and Cindy Krauss $100

Workers of D&G Machine Products, Inc – Merry Christmas! $800

In loving memory of George and Lee $1000

Lawrence & Karan Miller $100

Anonymous $500

For Gigi $100

In memory of Grammy & Grampy Arseneau $20

Wishing you Joy, peace & Love – Joseph Delaney & Anne Calendar $100

Kim Connell – Maine Coast Interiors – Merry Christmas! $100

Thankful for the blessing of our granddaughter, Lilly – Edie & Joe Leonhard $100

In memory of Tommie, Dad C and Dad O $25

Westbrook Office of Maine Staffing Group $100

From Denny & Marilyn Rundlett $50

From Barry & Diane Atwood $100

Nana & Nelly $25

In memory of Marie Frye LaGrange $50

In memory of Papa & Grampie, who loved Christmas time! Freeman family $25

Beverly Hastings $25

Maine Golf Course Superintendents Association $53

Staff & Students – Presumpscot School $193.72

In memory of our parents, Philip & Evelyn Pearson and Olaf & Helen Olsen – Harry & Betty Pearson $25

In memory of the late Murray Tenney, Falmouth $15

Anonymous $200

Margaret Mary McCann $50

In memory of Mom, Dad, Mimi ‘n Gumpy – Louie $25

Merry Christmas from Claudia, Ben and Sam $100

Peace, love and happiness to all $50

In memory Howie Krantman & Stan Bennett $50

Anonymous $50

Merry Christmas Leslie from Rich $100

In memory of Amos, Betty and Angel $50