We need a Christmas miracle to help struggling families city-wide – can you help?
WEARSIDERS have been sharing the gift of Christmas joy through the Echo’s Toy Appeal for more than 20 years.
But now, more than ever before, your help is needed to bring the true spirit of Christmas into the poorest and loneliest of homes in the city.
“We all know people who are having difficult times at the moment, or people facing uncertain futures,” said Clare Phillipson, director of Wearside Women in Need.
“We don’t want them to feel Christmas has passed them by, or that no one cares. We care – and everyone who helps with the appeal cares. It is a Sunderland tradition.”
The Echo’s Toy Appeal was launched back in the early 1990s, to help families facing a bleak Christmas due to money worries, relationship breakdowns or job losses.
Thousands of readers have donated tens of thousands of toys over the years, with the appeal now including gifts for mums, dads, teenagers, the homeless and elderly too.
“Lots of people get excited about Christmas. Some people worry about Christmas. The people we work with absolutely dread Christmas,” said Clare.
“This is often down to a combination of poverty and anxiety – if they are only just managing or not managing now, so how on earth can they manage at Christmas?
“It brings with it a sense of failure that somehow they are not as good as everybody else, that it’s their own fault and they are going to be letting their children down.
“But the appeal really makes a difference. Often that difference is hidden from those who donate, but it is very real. Your gifts all help put smiles on people’s faces.”
Toys donated by Echo readers are passed to Wearside Women In Need, where they are divided between women and children staying at the refuge and other local groups.
But the Christmas spirit doesn’t end there. WWIN staff also deliver your donated goodies to local pensioners, as well as clothing, toiletries and food to the homeless.
“The appeal helps those for whom Christmas seems like Everest – an insurmountable obstacle that they just don’t know how to get over, around or through,” said Clare.
“Christmas may be only one day, but it’s so symbolic. I feel so grateful and moved by the people who give gifts. It’s the kindness of strangers that makes it a special day.”
Clare spends each Christmas at the WWIN refuge with women and children who have fled nightmare lives – often with nothing. Your donations provide a lifeline for them all.
“Christmas can be a particularly hard time for families on the brink, as violence or abuse can escalate,” said Clare. “We’re always prepared for newcomers.
“I got woken up at 6am once by an AA man, who found a woman and her kids at the side of the motorway. Her husband kicked-off and she fled – but the car broke down.
“Christmas is hard for everyone in some way, especially 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.”
Last year’s Toy Appeal was the best one yet and Clare is optimistic that Wearsiders will once again bring the true spirit of Christmas to Sunderland.
“How people respond to this appeal brings tears to my eyes. They put so much care and effort into choosing gifts, just like they would for their own family,” she said.
“That total strangers are prepared to do that for others is the true meaning of the spirit of Christmas. All these thoughts and actions spread Christmas across the city.”
•Can you offer a drop off point for Toy Appeal gifts at your store or business? Contact Sarah Stoner via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
List of collection points
COLLECTION points across the city – and beyond – have been set up for this year’s Echo Toy Appeal.
As well as new toys for all ages, donations of toiletries, gloves, socks, smellies and gifts for men, women and teenagers are needed. Tins of food are also welcome.
The appeal will run from today until December 18 – just in time to share out your gifts among those who need them most across Wearside.
The collection points are:
•Echo House – Pennywell
•Echo Office – High Street West
•Tesco – The Bridges
•Asda – Pennywell
•Morrisons – Doxford Park
•Morrisons – Seaburn
•Sainsburys – Silksworth
•Sainsburys – just off Wessington Way
•Sainsburys – Fulwell
•Sainsburys – The Galleries
•The Barnes Institute – Whitburn
•All Saints Parish Church Hall – Cleadon
•St Paul’s Church – Ryhope
•Alan McLaughlan’s fresh fish shop, Church Street – Seaham
•Easington Lane Community Access Point – Brick Garth, Easington Lane