Charities step up to provide Christmas cheer
As government progressively shrinks the welfare state, it is increasingly left to the voluntary sector to tackle the ensuing social problems. Again this year it is charities which will step into the gap to provide some Christmas cheer for families and individuals deprived of the resources to do it for themselves. Nick Terdre reports.
Surviving Christmas expects to receive up to 150 people each day for its Open Christmas event, when it opens the doors of the Salvation Army hall in St Andrew’s Square on Christmas and Boxing days to provide warm meals, tea and snacks, showers, hairdressing, medical services, clothing, entertainment and friendship.
Anyone is welcome, says Ann Andrews, the chair of trustees. Surviving Christmas, now in its 30th year, has moved from the YMCA off Bohemia Road as the Salvation Army premises offers more privacy for medical services – there will be a doctor on hand for those who need a consultation – and greater storage space.
The charity also provides Christmas help in other forms. Last week it distributed food vouchers worth £16,000 to needy families and it is also providing more than 600 Christmas hampers with food and gifts – a gift goes to each member of the household, making a total of some 1,500 gifts. These recipients are made known to the charity via referral agencies.
This year, in conjunction with St Matthews Church in St Leonards, Surviving Christmas is launching a new initiative to help elderly people who find themselves isolated at home. On Christmas Day transport will be provided to and from the church, where a Christmas meal will be laid on for a small group of around 16 all living close to each other.
“The intention is that they may spark up a bit of friendship while they’re there,” Ann says. If the experience proves positive, the service will be rolled out in other areas next year.
Finding funds is a constant concern. A small part of the income comes from company sponsorship and occasional grants from trusts and the council, but Surviving Christmas is predominantly dependent on contributions from the public. Donations can be made through its website.
Surviving Christmas is the beneficiary, along with the Hastings-based Education Futures Trust (EFT), from the toy appeal which is being broadcast by local radio station Arrow FM. “We are working with the families who really need support,” says the trust’s chief executive Carole Dixon.
“The Making Christmas appeal is very much about identifying families across the town who really will not be receiving anything for Christmas this year, and a lot of them are also struggling to feed themselves,” she tells HOT.
“The primary aim of the appeal is to ask people to look in their cupboards and see if they have any items they were given, still boxed and unused, that we could pass onto children and families. We do also try and give a gift to the parents, as they often end up with nothing.
“If you give a gift, you know that, on Christmas Day, a child has had their Christmas made because you went out of your way to give something.”
EFT has a list of 51 priority families with nothing and another 50 with very little. Matters are undoubtedly getting worse, says Carole – last year the trust supported 23 families. “Some families are really struggling as the cost of living and benefits changes are hitting them really hard.”
If you don’t have anything stashed away at the bottom of the cupboard, you’re welcome to buy a toy or two and donate them. Gifts can be left at EFT’s office in Elphinstone Road or at Sainsbury’s in Sedlescombe Road North, where there is a collecting box behind the check-outs.
Carole sends thanks to ESK for the contribution of toys it made, to the staff of Hastings Direct who wrapped them up, and to Arrow FM for broadcasting the appeal.
Xtrax, the young people’s access hub in the town centre, will again be providing entertainment from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, including meals, for vulnerable and lonely young people. They will be catering for around 20, says centre manager Andrew Batsford. “It’s important for them, they may have nowhere else to go, and here they can spend time with people they know,” he says.
A recent fund-raiser at the Pig and Paradise raised £200 towards the cost of Christmas Day and presents. Xtrax has new trustees, Andrew says, including a member of several blues bands who is making a big contribution towards raising funds.
The Union Bar also agrees that ‘No one should be alone at Christmas’ and, like last year, will be providing a free meal for anyone who needs it on Christmas Day, from 2pm onwards, landlord Paul Osmond tells HOT.
Education Futures Trust The Firs, Elphinstone Road, Hastings (150 yards beyond the football ground, on the same side). Enquiries to email@example.com or tel 01424 722241.
Xtrax 5 Harold Place, Hastings TN34 1JA. Tel 01424 722524.
The Union Bar 57 Cambridge Road, Hastings TN34 1EL. Tel 01424 420074.