BY GILLIAN GRAHAM
Portland Press Herald
With 33 days until Christmas, activity at the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund has kicked into high gear.
Toys are being sorted and sent out to families, applications are pouring in, and readers of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram are once again digging deep to put smiles on children’s faces during the holiday season.
But, said the fund’s executive director, Kathleen Meade, there is still a lot of work to be done and much more money to be raised.
“Everybody likes to see children happy, including parents who can’t quite afford to provide extra gifts for their children,” she said.
For 63 years, the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund has provided gifts to children of all ages during the holiday season. Readers of the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram donate to the fund, which buys age-appropriate gifts to distribute to children in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties. Last year, toys were given to more than 7,200 children.
“We’re kind of like a Secret Santa for parents so they’re able to surprise their children with gifts,” Meade said.
The fund started in 1949, when Portland Evening Express editor Robert Bruce Beith, writing under the pen name Bruce Roberts, asked readers to donate $1 for Portland’s 1,000 neediest children. The newspaper offered to match their donations with another $1,000. By Christmas, $3,176 had been raised, allowing toys to be distributed to 1,200 children in Portland and surrounding areas.
The economic downturn has put pressure on the toy fund with an increase in the number of new families applying for assistance and fewer donations from readers. Meade estimates more than half of applications received so far this year are from families who have never applied before.
“We have people who are just struggling and scraping by,” Meade said.
“They can pay for food and oil or buy toys for their kids. The Bruce Roberts Toy Fund is a huge help for all of the people in our five counties.”
Last year, the fund raised $160,000, short of its $200,000 goal. To close that gap and to ensure there are enough toys, organizers have set a $300,000 goal. To date, the fund has received $8,866.
Applying for gifts and donating to the fund are now easier than ever, thanks to the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund website and Facebook page. Parents can print out an application from the website, saving the fund the cost of mailing out applications. A new easy-to-use feature on the website allows people to donate with a couple clicks of the mouse. Of course, donations are still accepted by mail or in person at the Portland Press Herald office at One City Center in Portland.
“Since 1949, it’s been a tradition to help others through the fund,” Meade said. “This is a nice way for all donors to engage in making smiles during the holidays.”