WATERVILLE — Volunteers are struggling to raise donations and assemble boxes for hundreds of needy children for the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers before the program’s deadline a week from today.

A recent publicity push spurred an uptick in donations after word went out earlier this month that the program, because of challenges including superstorm Sandy and the still-struggling economy, would not have enough for the 1,600 children in the state it planned to give to.

The problem is, even that uptick hasn’t been enough.

The director of the home’s Christmas program said 750 gift boxes for children throughout Maine lack needed clothes and toys.

The program has identified 1,600 disadvantaged children throughout the state, but only has the supplies to complete 850 of the packages, program director Cristen Sawyer said.

“I’m going to cry now,” Sawyer said a moment before temporarily losing her composure. “We’re trying to get boxes packed, but we’re very frustrated because we don’t have the inventory to put in the boxes.”

The program, which has been operating for about 60 years, gives each child an outfit, pajamas, a small toy, a large toy, two books, a coloring book and a hat and mitten set. Each family also gets a board game.

Because the boxes have to be filled and distributed through donated space, clothing items and toys donated on Saturday, Dec. 8, or later are held over until next year.

“They’re so generous, but what is hard for us to communicate is the need to get it here soon,” Sawyer said. “That deadline is the day that we stop packing.”

Despite the pressure that has been created by lower-than-normal donations, she had nothing but praise for those who support the program.

“Here’s the good news. I never lack for volunteers,” she said. “I so appreciate people who are taking their own time and coming in to pack gifts for people they don’t know and will probably never meet.”

A round of publicity including two television appearances, a newspaper article, and three radio interviews helped to stimulate donations, but Sawyer said that with only a week to go they are just not coming quickly enough.

Sawyer said the program, which accepts only new items in their original packaging, is really hurting for a variety of items, including clothing, especially in sizes 5 to 16 for both boys and girls. Other areas of great need include infant and toddler toys, baby dolls and baby doll furniture, Lego sets, action figures like Spiderman and Batman, and arts and crafts kits for both girls and boys.

“Boys like to do crafts, too, like model cars and woodcrafting,” she said.

The program was hurt this year by superstorm Sandy, which caused organizational partners in New York City and New Jersey to redirect resources away from Maine and toward their own devastated communities.

The program is one of several at the organization, which was founded in 1899 to house orphaned children and continues to benefit children through adoption, counseling and summer camp programs, among others.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
mhhetling@centralmaine.com