THE true spirit of Christmas is alive and flourishing in Sunderland – thanks to the kindness of Echo readers.
Games, dolls, fluffy toys and colouring sets have flooded in this week for the Echo’s annual Toy Appeal – as well as gifts for the homeless, teenagers and pensioners.
But a Christmas miracle is still needed to find hundreds more, to help bring the true spirit of this festive period into the neediest and loneliest of homes.
“The appeal helps people living in poverty all over Sunderland. Christmas is an awful time for many,” said Clare Phillipson, director of Wearside Women in Need (WWIN). “They look around and see that everyone else seems to be happy, has a home of their own or a close and loving family. It makes them feel on the outside and very lonely.”
Plains Farm mum-of-three Sheila Merryweather was among those to benefit from last year’s Toy Appeal, after a relationship break-up saw her spend Christmas at the WWIN refuge.
“I was pregnant when I arrived, with two small children. We had very little,” she said. “But the kindness of those who gave gifts helped the children have a good Christmas.
“I couldn’t afford to buy them presents, but the Echo’s appeal helped me feel like a proper mam – especially watching the kids’ faces light up at the toys.”
Mama Hailey, 34, a mum-of-three from Houghton, also received gifts for her children thanks to the appeal – after fleeing an abusive relationship in just the clothes she had on.
“I had no toys for the children, nothing, when I arrived at the refuge,” she said. “I had no money to buy anything either, which was awful, as Christmas was getting close.
“The kids were getting excited, watching all the Christmas adverts but I had nothing to give them – until I received gifts from the appeal. I was so grateful.”
A third to benefit last year was Leah Jones, from Washington, who found herself homeless after family problems and was taken in by the WWIN refuge.
The 18-year-old has been living at the shelter for almost two years and, after turning her life around, is now studying childcare and hopes to have a place of her own soon.
“I was given several presents by the appeal last year, such as slippers, pyjamas and a bath set, which I really needed as I didn’t have anything much of my own,” she said.
“The appeal also helped out a lot of other girls in the refuge too, girls who didn’t have anything at all – absolutely nothing. We really, really appreciated all the help.”
Donation points across Sunderland have been set up for the Toy Appeal, which will run until December 18 – just in time to share out gifts for Christmas Day. Among those collecting are Sainsbury and Morrisons stores citywide, as well as Tescos in The Bridges – the only Toy Appeal outlet in the shopping centre.
“It is the first time we’ve been involved in the appeal and our customers have taken it to their hearts,” said Heather Smith, PR ambassador for Sainsbury’s at Fulwell.
“We’ve had donations of everything from stuffed toys to games and books as well as gifts for all ages. Well done the people of Fulwell – you are absolutely marvellous!”
The Echo offices in High Street and Pennywell are also open for donations, and the latest firm to volunteer to accept gifts is Hays Travel, at 25 Vine Place.
“The people of Sunderland have really embraced the appeal,” said Echo editor John Szymanski. “It is heartwarming to see how much love has gone into the gifts given so far.”
l A Seaham drop-off point for gifts is urgently needed. Can your store or business help? Contact Sarah Stoner via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COLLECTION points across the city – and beyond – have been set up for this year’s Echo Toy Appeal.
As well as new toys, donations of toiletries, gloves, socks, smellies and gifts for men, women and teenagers are needed. Tins of food are also welcome.
l Hays Travel, 25 Vine Place
l Echo House, Pennywell
l Echo Office, High Street West
l Tesco, The Bridges
l Morrisons, Doxford Park
l Morrisons, Seaburn
l Sainsbury’s, Silksworth
l Sainsbury’s, Southwick
l Sainsbury’s, Fulwell
l Sainsbury’s, The Galleries
l Sainsbury’s, Teal Farm
l Asda, Pennywell
l The Barnes Institute, Whitburn
l All Saints Parish Church Hall, Cleadon
l St Paul’s Church, Ryhope
l Easington Lane Community Access Point, Brick Garth, Easington Lane