Almost 400 children would have had nothing to open on Christmas morning last year had it not been for the Salvation Army playing Santa in Preston.
This year the charity expects the number to be even higher as new benefit changes leave more families unable to afford presents for their youngsters.
“The demand gets bigger and bigger every year,” said Claire Hobson at the launch of the Salvation Army’s annual Christmas Toy and Gift Appeal in the city.
“But this year, judging by a significant increase in the number of food parcels we’ve been handing out, it looks like it’s going to be a record. The family tax credit changes are hitting people really hard.”
Generous folk in the Preston area donated around 2,000 gifts last year to make it a happy Christmas for 395 children who would otherwise have had nothing. The charity also gave out 900 bags of food to feed 265 families over the festive period.
Staff and volunteers were overwhelmed by the response to a desperate appeal for toys put out by the Evening Post in mid-December. This year the charity is opening its appeal early so presents can be wrapped and allocated in plenty of time.
“There was nothing left by the middle of December last year and we were going out buying things,” explained Claire, who is co-ordinator at the Salvation Army community centre in Harrington Street. “Then we put out the appeal and it just went mad.
“The main things we need this year - as always - are gifts for the nought to three age range and also teenagers. It is a real struggle to get those sorts of things every year.”
The appeal is for NEW toys and gifts. The charity is also desperate for Santa gift bags or sacks to put the presents in.
“We’ve been out with the begging bowl to the major supermarkets, but this year the response has been disappointing,” said Natalie Thomas, the community centre assistant. “Waitrose gave us 500 bags for life. Morrisons have put a trolley out for customers to donate things. And Booths have given us some discontinued lines. In the past supermarkets at least gave us carrier bags. But now, with the 5p charge, we’re having to pay.”
The Salvation Army hands out around 300 food parcels a month from its Preston HQ. “The public of Preston are fantastic,” said Claire. “Every year they support us. Hopefully this year will be no different and hundreds of children will have a happy Christmas.”
For advice on donating contact: 01772 555425 or go on Twitter @saprestonuk.