The Echo’s Christmas Toy Appeal is in full swing, can you make someone’s day special?
IT’S the kindness of strangers that saves the day.” Clare Phillipson, director of Wearside Women in Need, spends December 25 with women and children who’ve fled nightmare lives to start again.
Their bravery in escaping is made worthwhile by Echo readers, who every year add one more gift to their list to make Christmas special at the refuge.
Clare said: “It’s just one day but it’s so symbolic. Our motto is that we don’t want anyone left out – no one should feel forgotten on this day.
“Christmas at the refuge is wonderful. Children love being in a big group and having their mates about.
“Usually we’re full. One year we had seven babies, one year we had 30 children and teenagers.”
For more than 10 years now, these children have had presents to unwrap because of the fantastic response to our annual Toy Appeal.
Clare said: “The toy appeal is a key Sunderland tradition.
“Not just for the Echo and the charities but for the people who make a note on their shopping list every year to buy and donate a gift.
“It started small and it’s grown and grown and so has the number of people it reaches each year.
“The Christmas lights go on and the Echo Toy Appeal begins – it’s part of the fabric of the city.”
The collected toys are donated to Wearside Women in Need and B2b+, a Hendon-based project for young parents.
The gifts that go to WWIN are then divided up between women and children at the refuge and other local groups.
All of the gifts donated by readers are new, and it’s now popular for other donations to appear.
Clare said: “A lot of people give toys, a lot give toiletries and some choose tins and food. The donaters decide what’s the priority. I feel so grateful and moved by the people who give to the appeal.
“It’s the kindness of strangers that saves the day.
“I love the idea of all these chain reactions, someone putting a gift in their shopping for someone they don’t even know, someone asking everyone at work to donate something. All these thoughts and actions spread Christmas across the city.”
And Christmas is a particularly hard time for families on the brink, as violence or abuse can escalate.
Clare said: “We’re always prepared for newcomers. Either Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Boxing Day people need urgent help. If dad kicks-off and smashes everything, everyone is out on the street at 2am in the morning in their pyjamas.
“There are cases that still haunt me now. I got woken up at 6am once by an AA man who’d found a woman and her kids at the side of the motorway. Her husband started and she fled but the car broke down. She was miles from home, it was freezing cold and none of them had slept. I still think about it now. Christmas is hard for everyone in some way, if there’s been a bereavement or someone is missing or ill. Imagine how much more intense that is if you haven’t even got a home or you’ve lost your job or you’re not long out of a psychiatric hospital.”
How you can help
You can leave your gifts at collection points across the city. Please give only new toys and mark your unwrapped gifts ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ stating the age-range they are for. As well as toys we need toiletries for men, gloves, socks, smellies and gifts for mothers. We also need tins and festive fayre.
The following are our collection points:
Echo House, Pennywell
Echo Office, High Street West
Asda Customer Services, Leechmere
Asda Customer Services, Byron Place, Seaham
Morrisons, Doxford Park
The Bridges Customer Services Desk