The Christmas Smile Project Gives Gifts To Hundreds Of Children In Need Every Year

17/12/2014 11:29 GMT | Updated 17/12/2014 16:59 GMT

Work occupies so much of our time it can seem hard to fit anything else in. But Kate Phillips shows how helping other people, particularly kids who come from families unable to buy them Christmas presents, is worth making time for.

By day, 45-year-old Phillips is a Project Manager for Capgemini (UK) plc. By night she's giving back to the community by heading up the Christmas Smile Project, which aims to provide Christmas presents for children living in difficult circumstances.

The project gave presents to around 300 kids last year and also offers Christmas food hampers to families who are struggling to put food on their table, while also giving gifts to elderly residents spending Christmas alone.

kate phillips

"It’s not just about finance, it’s also about emotional support," Phillips tells HuffPost Lifestyle.

"Last year we sent food and gifts to a grandparent who was looking after her grandchildren after their parents were killed in a car accident. Not only was she struggling with her own grief but also had to try to make Christmas as nice as possible for those children.

"We also received a referral for a lady who had suffered a brain tumour and was struggling to cope with organising Christmas for her children. Our aim is to provide a smile at what can be a very difficult time of year for people," she adds.

A domestic abuse coordinator from Telford, whose client received gifts from the Christmas Smile Project last year, revealed: "I was working with a family who had to move house on short notice to flee domestic abuse. They had to leave everything behind and had to start again without even just the basics.

"But the family were thrilled with the presents."

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The inspiration for the project came after Phillips volunteered for her local food bank and saw, first hand, the real need for support within the local community.

"I couldn’t bear the thought of any child going without a gift from Santa," she says.

"When you are lucky enough to have a roof over your head, a family surrounding you, food on the table and gifts under the tree it is hard not to think of others who aren't so fortunate. After all, one day it could be you who needs that support.

"Christmas Smile Project is about pulling together and helping one another in times of difficulty. And for people to know that help is out there."

After liaising with Jake Bennett from Telford Crisis Support - who also runs the food bank - Phillips realised that it would be possible to identify the children most in need with his help and contacts.

So they formed a partnership to create Christmas Smile Project - a project run by the community, for the community.

"I work as a Project Manager for Capgemini and always wanted to put the skills I’ve accumulated during my 16 year career to good use within the community," she says.

Teaming up with Martina Boshell, a fellow food bank volunteer and employee of Telford & Wrekin Council, the duo garnered support from work colleagues. They then set up donation points within all of the Capgemini and council offices in Telford and launched a Facebook and Twitter page.

Soon, donations and offers of support were pouring in from across the town.

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While the project has been an incredible success, it hasn't been an easy ride juggling full-time work and motherhood alongside it. "Time management skills are a necessity to be able to fit everything in," says Phillips.

"I started planning for Christmas Smile 2014 in May to try to make things easier to manage later on in the year. I set up all the marketing and communications material and also organised for the design of a new website, which Ian Blackford from local company Design Conscious kindly donated."

The content of the website was carefully designed to provide as much donation information as possible, to avoid a large messaging overhead. Thankfully that seems to have worked!"

"I also set up a steering committee of wonderfully talented volunteers who have been engaged in the project since October. It has still been a busy time but much easier thanks to the planning work done earlier in the year and to our team of volunteers."

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Another challenge has been finding children and families who need their support.

"The referrals process is carefully and sympathetically managed by the Telford Crisis Network by approaching the council agencies and charities, who will collect and deliver the gifts if their client wishes.

"I want to make sure every child living in difficult circumstances receives a gift, so we are also approaching all the schools in Telford this year to enable teachers to refer any child they believe may appreciate a gift from us," she says.

To ensure that presents are delivered to those who are most in need, and the system is not abused, each request goes through a strict checking and approvals process. But, Kate adds, anyone can apply for a gift or food hamper depending on their need.

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While donation points are now officially closed, the charity are still accepting monetary donations enabling them to purchase any last minute gifts.

Phillips has also recently been shortlisted for a Capgemini Global Community Engagement Award. "Around 140 nominations were received from 17 countries so to be chosen as one of 12 entries was phenomenal," she adds.

Next, she aims to register Christmas Smile as an official charity and expand the project to other communities across the UK.

christmas smile project

Volunteers for Christmas Smile Project. Left to right: Tasha Laine, Kyla Barnett, Anne-Marie Barnett, Finlay Barnett, Martina Boshell, Kate Phillips, Isobel Walford and Grace Taylor [Kate's daughter]

"I wish that every single child across the world receives a gift from Santa this Christmas, that every family has enough food and that every lone elderly person smiles on Christmas day knowing someone in their community thought about them."

"I can’t yet make all of those wishes come true across the world, but I will be doing everything I can to make it a reality within my local community."

For more information or to donate, visit www.christmassmile.org.uk or Like them on Facebook.