In just over a month’s time, children up and down the country will be waking up with butterflies of excitement, safe in the knowledge that Santa has visited. There will be warmth, gifts and a nice big lunch to boot. But for an increasing number of children, Christmas morning will mark another day of struggle.
There’ll be no toys and no turkey dinners with all the trimmings. It will simply be another day in poverty, without even a school meal to fill their bellies. The charity Barnado’s warns that many children will be going without presents and a traditional meal this Christmas and is urging the British public to take action and help.
An estimated 14.3 million people are in poverty in the UK – which equates to about one in five people. Almost half (43%) of Barnado’s frontline workers said at least some of the people they support who celebrate Christmas were unlikely to receive any presents or enjoy a traditional meal this year.
Their plea for help follows a heartbreaking note that was discovered in a Santa postbox at a community centre in Liverpool earlier this month. The letter, from a seven-year-old in Everton, asked Father Christmas for a house for her family, some food, as well as a “nice doll”.
“Dear Father Christmas. Can you help? Can we have a home for Christmas?” it read. “Mam wants us to be all together, can you give us some food and can I just have just nice doll for Christmas. Thank you.”
After the note was picked up by local media, people rushed to help including a footballer who wished to remain anonymous. He told the Liverpool Echo: “I would love to get in touch with the family and help them have a good Christmas.
“Every Christmas I always want to help people less fortunate and to see people who live in the same city as us struggling to give their children what most kids get kills me.” He added: “How there can be people in our country in poverty is beyond belief.”
Barnardo’s staff members have shared their concerns that some of the children and families they currently support will also experience an increase in mental health issues and loneliness over the festive period.
The situation is steadily getting worse. Recent reports from the Trussell Trust, a nationwide provider of food bank services, showed food parcel donations are up by nearly a quarter year-on-year, with one third of these going to children.
This time last year, a single mum’s Christmas was made after kind HuffPost UK readers sent her £500 to buy Christmas presents for her family – she was left penniless over the festive period as her benefit payments had been stopped due to Universal Credit.
At the time, the 43-year-old bravely revealed she was unable to buy her son and the grandson who she is legal guardian for any Christmas presents and that she was relying on food parcels from her local foodbank to feed her family.
When HuffPost UK spoke to Joanne the day before her story went online, she told us she had been living on beans and toast herself so that the kids, then aged 13 and five, could have a proper meal each day.
Within hours of publishing the story, emails came into HuffPost UK’s news room from people who wanted to donate money to the single mum to help her through the Christmas period.
The cash was enough to buy the boys Christmas presents. And it also allowed the family to eat decent meals in the weeks after.
This show of generosity and spirit is just what Christmas is about, and there are plenty of ways to support children who will otherwise go without.
As well as making sure you vote in the General Election, here are some other ways to take action this December.
Pack A Reverse Advent Calendar
Get a cardboard box or bag and, for every day in December, add an item such as tinned food, non-perishables or toiletries. Then, on Christmas Eve (or whenever your box is full – earlier is better), drop it off at your local homeless shelter. Find out more about them here.
Build A Kidsmas Snowman
Barnardo’s has launched a fundraising page where people can donate by throwing a ‘snowball donation’. The more snowballs thrown, the bigger their snowman gets and the more money is raised to help change the lives of vulnerable children. Build the snowman here.
Support A Secret Santa Initiative
Having previously run a similar initiative called Secret Sheikh at Eid, Phil Boulding runs a scheme in Blackburn collecting donated toys and distributes them to thousands of local children who would otherwise go without.
He told HuffPost UK: “We give every single underprivileged child in Blackburn and Darwen a sack of seven presents to open on Christmas day – and that’s all done via children’s services.” You can find his contact details on Twitter, here.
Send A Book Parcel
Each year BookTrust sends out hundreds of book parcels to children who are vulnerable or in care via its Letterbox Club. For some kids, it will be the first time they’ve had a letter or parcel, for others, the first time they’ve ever owned a book. Sending a parcel costs £10, you can order one here.
Fill A Bag For The Buddy Bag Foundation
Volunteers send backpacks filled with items of comfort to children in refuges, who are often fleeing domestic abuse. The backpacks are tailored to suit children between the ages of 0-16 years old. You can donate here.
Buy A Gift For A Child Victim Of Crime
You can do this through the Dear Santa Amazon wishlist. Simply select the wishlist for your area and then you’ll see a list of Dear Santa gifts together with details of the recipients, including their age, their region and the crime itself.
Donate To A Toy Appeal
There are various toy appeals running up and down the country, but one of the most well-known is the Salvation Army’s Christmas Present Appeal which runs until mid-December.
To take part, you need to donate new, unwrapped toys and gifts to a local Salvation Army centre. These will be wrapped and distributed to children who might not otherwise receive a Christmas present.
Toy ideas include dolls, teddy bears, baby clothes, bath toys, action figures, cars, lorries, DVDs, colouring sets, books, puzzles and educational games.
You can find your nearest centre by using this postcode and place search – or donate new toys to your nearest foodbank to be distributed to kids in need.
More toy appeals:
:: Christmas Smile, in Telford.
:: The Toy Appeal, which runs across the North West of England
:: Family Action Toy Appeal, in England and Wales.
:: The Community And Beyond Toy Bank, in Glasgow.