A 3-year-old boy and his mother are celebrating the first Christmas in their own apartment after being homeless last year, but the overwhelming cost of rent has left no money for gifts.

Another family is spending the holiday living with friends after the mother and her children escaped a violent home, glad to be safe even if it’s a Christmas without presents.

And a mother and five children are huddling around space heaters in their apartment this holiday season because she has no money to fill the family’s fuel tank, let alone buy presents for them.

But along with thousands of others whose families shared similar stories with the Press Herald Toy Fund this year, those youngsters are enjoying a Christmas with gifts, after all. And they will probably never know that the toys bringing joy into their holidays were purchased with donations by readers of the Portland Press Herald.

It is the story of the 70-year-old fund. Since it was founded in 1949, some 200,000 Maine children have enjoyed Christmas morning with gifts to unwrap and play with because of the generosity of newspaper readers who donate cash and volunteer their time to keep the fund going.

And most of those children have never known that the toy fund and its supporters played a role. We know that at least some recipients eventually learned that the toy fund helped their families, because they have become regular donors to help other children and have written notes to the fund about the impact it had on their lives and how grateful they remain.

The toys, of course, are much more than just toys to the families who receive them. They are gifts that let children remain children in spite of circumstances such as rising rents and domestic violence, hardships cited in numerous letters this year.

The mother of five who has no fuel for heat said this week that she is still trying to get help to fill the tank. But, she said, she now has a third space heater in the apartment, so the children are not as cold as they were.

“We are doing OK,” she said. “Thank you so much for the toys.”

The toy fund continues to seek donations through the end of the year, and beyond, to cover its costs and to sustain the 70-year-old tradition. The Press Herald will continue to publish the names of donors who don’t request anonymity.

TODAY’S DONATIONS

Barbara and Jay Bock  $100
Happy holidays! The Bopp family  $100
Barry Gleason and Maryellen Kennedy  $100
Remembering Diane and Jack. Love, Steve  $200
Sharon Fortune  $60
In memory of Annette Cameron  $250
First timer-seemed like the right thing to do, remembering Christmas past & the joy it brang! Ed & Sandy Lachtara  $20
In honor of the WHS class of 68 Breakfast Friends  $25
In memory of Betty Crane  $50
Anonymous  $100
In memory of Constance Kane Tripp  $100
Merry Christmas!  $100
Meredith & David Jackson  $100
With thanksgiving for Irwin and Eli  $300
Year to date: $116,686.29

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