Families torn apart by abuse and domestic violence have been among those helped by the Press Herald Toy Fund since the charity was founded 70 years ago.

But longtime helpers who open the letters sent each year from parents seeking help say such heartbreaking stories seem to be more common than ever this year.

“It’s very depressing how many of these kids are escaping domestic violence,” said Kathleen Meade, the toy fund’s director. “It’s one (letter) after another.”

The toy fund does not share names or identifying information about any of the families it helps. But families who have survived domestic violence, or those still in the midst of it, typically do not want other details of their experience shared because of concerns about their safety, Meade said.

Meade said women with young children have written in detail about escaping a violent home however they can; one mother wrote how she hid her family earlier this year by sleeping in a tent and telling the kids they were on an adventure.

“She wrote that it’s been hard to explain to her kids what’s going on, but they’ve been really good,” Meade said. The family later stayed on couches in a friend’s home and were grateful just to have a warm place to be, she said.

It’s not clear if the increase in such letters arriving at the toy fund is because there is more domestic violence than in the past or more willingness to come forward and ask for help in the wake of so many news stories about mothers and children being harmed, or worse, because they did not see a way out.

Not having toys to unwrap at Christmas seems like a small problem given what the children are going through, but Meade said the parents desperately want to give their children a normal holiday and a reason to smile.

“We are in a position to help relieve some of the stress by providing gifts, so they are not worried about that part of it, at least,” Meade said.

THE PRESS HERALD TOY FUND in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts uses 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. Now in its 70th year, the fund is accepting applications for toys from needy families in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Androscoggin, Lincoln and Knox counties.

DONATIONS to help buy the toys can be made at pressheraldtoyfund.org 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, call 791-6672 or go to: pressheraldtoyfund.org.

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