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How you can help families struggling to buy toys this Christmas

There are many ways to help families who are hard up over the festive period

Christmas will be different this year but most of us will be lucky enough to spend it with our loved ones. Gifts will be exchanged, Christmas dinner will be eaten and games will be played. 

But this won’t be the scene for families who are hard up over the festive period. Some will find themselves out of work and struggling to keep a roof over their head. Others might be forced to flee home for personal reasons and start all over again. 

This was the case for Louise, a survivor of domestic abuse who spent last Christmas in a hostel with her two young daughters. The 32-year-old was forced to leave everything behind while desperately trying to make Christmas special for her kids. The Big Issue has changed her name to protect her identity.

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“It’s horrible really. You don’t end up in a hostel because things are going well,” she told the Big Issue. 

“So you’ve had trauma or upset or whatever and then in the back of your mind you just want to make things as normal as you can for the children while worrying about everything else at the same time.” 

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For Louise, money was tight. She said she felt “guilty” about not giving her children the Christmas she might have liked. She relied on toy donations from generous strangers and the support of the hostel she was staying at. 

This is the unfortunate reality for millions of families in the UK who might not be able to afford presents for their kids or a hot Christmas meal. 

People are losing their jobs and homes over the pandemic and homeless charity Shelter says 200,000 households will be homeless this Christmas. New figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation predict the number of people facing destitution will double.  

Up and down the country appeals have been launched to get toys and food to youngsters. Charities and organisations such as The Salvation Army, Family Action and The Toy Appeal have all asked for support. Food banks, including the Trussell Trust and FareShare are looking for volunteers and donations to make sure families don’t go without. 

There are also local toy appeals and donation banks across the UK providing even more opportunities to help in schools, offices and independent events.

Tony Daniels, director of community services for The Salvation Army, says Christmas is always a tough time of year but this year will be extra difficult. 

“The pandemic has brought some extremely difficult situations for families throughout this year,” he said. 

“Christmas always brings extra demands on family budgets, but this year we’re anticipating it will be even more difficult for many.” 

Louise added that her kids were “really spoilt” last Christmas and received toys, games, and arts and crafts from the hostel. But despite this, she said, not living in a normal family home can be challenging. 

“It makes you feel uncomfortable, especially when the kids are at school,” she said. 

“They’re talking to their friends about what they’ve had for Christmas and you just want them to be the same as their friends and not have that gaping difference between them and a normal life.” 

Louise said the staff at the supported housing accommodation were “amazing” and made Christmas feel “really special”. 

“It obviously wasn’t home and never would have been, but as much as it wasn’t an ideal situation, they really made the kids feel like it was normal.

“We had visits from Santa and presents. And they really tried to make it nice so it was quite lovely.” 

Louise is now working at a call centre and has moved into her own place which she describes as “a family home again”. 

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