He will turn 4 years old in January, but he was just an infant when his father died in an early morning car crash.
“He’s starting to notice he doesn’t have a dad like the other kids in preschool,” his mother said.
Since her fiance’s death in 2013, the little boy’s mother has struggled to get back on her feet. She lives with her own mother in the Portland area and is looking for work. In the meantime, both Christmas and her son’s birthday are approaching. She turned to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund for help.
“The fact is I cannot afford gifts for him this Christmas,” the 29-year-old mom wrote in her application to the fund. “I want it to be magical for him, especially since his dad isn’t here to celebrate it with him.”
For 67 years, the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund has provided Christmas gifts for children like that little boy. Donations from readers provide toys to thousands of children who might not otherwise receive them at the holidays. Presents are distributed to needy families in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties.
That mission began in 1949 with Matthew Barron, Portland’s assistant welfare director, and Robert Beith, an editor and columnist at the Portland Evening Express. Barron told Beith about families struggling during the holidays, and Beith wrote a column asking readers to help them. They raised more than $3,000 that first year. The fund – originally called the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund after Beith’s pen name – was born. While it is now known as the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund, the original mission lives on.
Kathleen Meade, the executive director, said this year she hopes to reach 3,500 children – from infants to 18-year-olds.
“It’s kids you know in preschool,” Meade said. “It’s kids you know in middle school. It’s teens. It’s kids you know.”
Last year, the fund raised an estimated $127,057. Roughly $4,000 of this year’s $200,000 goal has been collected as of last week. The money allows each child to receive three to five toys.
More than 100 volunteers are already assembling age- and gender-specific packages of games, stuffed animals, crafts and electronics. Among the volunteers is Margie Emmons of Yarmouth.
“This time of the year is very, very special for my family,” Emmons said. “I am happy to be involved in an effort that makes giving special for families that wouldn’t otherwise be able to partake in that wonderful joy.”
Emmons usually helps assemble bags of gifts in the weeks leading up to Christmas. She has helped the toy fund for 15 years, but she said she knows volunteers who have been involved longer.
“People are appreciative every year,” she said. “There are people, as you hand them a bag of toys for their children, who just weep in their thankfulness for what the toy fund is able to provide.”
Emmons encouraged people to donate to the toy fund.
“I hope it will never die off because there will always be a need,” she said.
The Press Herald does not identify the families who receive gifts from the toy fund. The Portland-area single mother remembered last Christmas, when she gave her son toys through the fund and he went “absolutely bananas” with excitement. She hopes to go to school next year to become a medical assistant and find steady work, but in the meantime, she is grateful for the fund’s help.
“Thank you all so much for your kindness,” she wrote at the end of her application. “I will find a way to pay it forward!”
THE PORTLAND PRESS HERALD TOY FUND in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts is using donations from readers to provide toys to thousands of Maine children who might otherwise not receive holiday gifts because of hardships faced by their parents.
THE FUND – now in its 67th year – is accepting applications for toys from needy families in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties. Applications can be downloaded at pressheraldtoyfund.org or picked up at the Welcome Center desk on the fifth floor of One City Center in Portland. Call 791-6672 to have one mailed to you.
DONATIONS to help buy the toys can be made on the website or by writing checks to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund and mailing them to the fund at P.O. Box 7310, Portland, ME 04112.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, go to: pressheraldtoyfund.org
Friday, December 16
Noon – 2pm
Host a potluck at your office to raise money for the Press Herald/Bruce Roberts Toy Fund. Gather your colleagues. Toast the season. Have some lunch and raise funds to help provide toys to more than 7,000 children in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties.
Here’s how it works: Organize a potluck in your office for Friday, December 16th. Get colleagues to sign-up to bring food – appetizers, side dishes, soups, main dishes, and dessert. Invite the entire office to come for the feast. People make a donation of their choosing for a plate of food and all proceeds go to the Press Herald/Bruce Roberts Toy Fund.
Tag your office festivities with #portlandpotluck and we’ll award prizes for the most festive buffet and the company who raises the most money.
Can’t make it to the event? You can still help out by making a donation as an organization or as an individual:
For more information call Chris Sobiech at 207-791-6611 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Bring a dish. Spread some joy.
Sue Mack wore a Santa hat and smiled as she led a group of older gentlemen down a row of boxes stacked inside the former Lamey-Wellehan Shoe store at the Falmouth Shopping Center.
“You’re going to love this,” said Mack, a volunteer with the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund.
Bob Mortimer, 84, of Falmouth followed Mack while coaching a new volunteer.
“This is pretty tough, but I’ll show you,” he said with a cheeky grin.
The 67th year of what is now the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund is officially underway. Since 1949, the fund has used donations from readers to provide toys to thousands of children who might not otherwise receive a gift at Christmas. The fund serves needy families throughout Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties.
“We serve so many families in need,” said Kathleen Meade, executive director of the toy fund. “We serve them at a time when its stressful enough to feed kids and heat their houses. We provide a safety net for families that love their children and want them to have holiday experiences like everyone else.”
The story began in December of 1949 when Matthew Barron, Portland’s assistant welfare director, teamed up with Robert Beith, an editor and columnist at the Portland Evening Express. Barron knew of many families facing hardships and Beith wanted to help.
So Beith wrote a column using a pen name – Bruce Roberts – and asked readers for donations to help the city’s needy children. By Christmas, they raised $3,176 and provided gifts to 1,200 kids in the Portland area.
Though the newspaper has seen many changes over the years, the fund’s mission remains the same and the Portland Press Herald remains committed to keeping the tradition going.
In 2014, the fund changed its name to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund, in the spirit of Bruce Roberts. Last year, the fund raised an estimated $127,057, which provided gifts to roughly 3,500 kids. This year, organizers hope to raise $200,000. As of Wednesday, roughly $4,000 had been collected.
Meade hopes donations will increase after Thanksgiving. She said the fund has seen a slight increase in contributions over the past couple years.
“People are really needing this help,” Meade said. “It allows kids to feel part of the game.”
To make a donation, go to www.pressheraldtoyfund.org or send a check to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund at P.O. Box 7310, Portland, ME 04112.
There will be several fundraising events leading up to Christmas. Longfellow Books in Portland is putting on a Book Store Day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 3. Volunteers will be collecting donations.
Elsmere BBQ in South Portland will host a toy fund night from 4 to 9 p.m. on Dec. 7, and a percentage of sales will go to the fund.
Merry Madness, when many stores in downtown Portland will stay open late for holiday shopping, happens on Dec. 8. A percentage of ticket sales to a kickoff party at Portland House of Music will go to the fund. And the Maine Red Claws will also host a toy fund night at 5 p.m. on Dec. 18.
For more information about these and other fundraisers, or to volunteer, go to www.pressheraldtoyfund.org.
As the holidays approach, volunteers are hard at work unpacking boxes of toys, games, dolls and electronics to distribute to families and social service agencies.
On Wednesday, volunteers Larry Bennett, 85, of Westbrook and Mortimer were busy unpacking and sorting boys gifts. “My wife told me to volunteer,” said Mortimer. “We love it.”
Families who apply to the program will receive three to four gifts per child for Christmas. Applications can be downloaded at pressheraldtoyfund.org.