This Christmas eve, parents will tuck their children into bed earlier than usual (hopefully!), as they listen for Santa’s sleigh bells and wait for the big jolly fella to deliver brand new toys and presents.
The excitement of snowy footprints leading up to half eaten mince pies is just a small part of the joyous occasion many get to celebrate together.
On the 25th of December, many homes will see families and friends coming together to celebrate the season of goodwill with the exchanging of gifts and later tucking into a hearty Christmas lunch with all the trimmings; but what about those who are less fortunate?
Every year, thousands of people are left hungry, homeless or alone at Christmastime. They don’t get to experience the warmth and love inside a festive family home, or enjoy that delicious Christmas dinner accompanied by pigs-in-blankets, or the mouth-watering (for some!) brussel sprouts and parnsips.
Fortunately there are charities and organisations working to make Christmas a little bit more special for those in need but it only happens with the help of volunteers and of course donations from the public.
The Winton Salvation Army are just one of the charities giving back to the community, not just at Christmas but all year through.
Corps Officer Michael Coleman spoke of all the events they will be hosting: “We’re doing a lot around helping disadvantaged people in terms of people who might be alone at Christmas, so we will be doing a Christmas meal for around 60 people.”
He added: “We’ve been doing other things for regular people that we work with, for example we support homeless people with a meal once a week. Showers, haircuts, things like that.
“We’ll be distributing about 500 toys this year – referrals come from other agencies like schools and healthcare centres – places where people might identify families that may be struggling at Christmas.”
The charity will also be hosting carol services, and an exciting Lapland experience: “The event is an experiential kind of thing with various stations, there’s a manger scene which the children can participate in. There’s even a Santa’s Grotto.”
The importance of giving back
Major Coleman also noted the importance of giving back this month, and connecting with others and yourself on a spiritual level: “I think Christmas is a time when people are a little bit more open to talk about spiritual things, because it is a spiritual time of the year.
“I think with most churches and faith based organisations of other faiths as well, there’s a sense of the complete person, not just mind and body, but mind, body and soul.
“If we can encourage people to look at the soul part of themselves – or their spiritual side, and encourage them to make that more healthy and more wholesome – then that’s a good thing.
“Traditionally, Christmas is a time where we reach out to others and help others, I think we are more conscious of people who are less fortunate than ourselves.
“In the Salvation Army we are conscious particularly of the difficulties of homeless people and the hardship that they experience at this time of year.
“Homeless people die every winter because of the cold. That’s a particular group we have a sensitivity to, a connection with.”
Food banks feel the pressure
Many food banks also massively appreciate donations at this time of year as they come under increasing pressure. Donations can mean the difference between someone having a meal or going hungry on Christmas day.
The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity that support a network of more than 1,200 food bank centres across the UK. They provide emergency food and support for those who are struggling and unable to afford these basic necessities.
In Dorset alone, they help 1,120 adults and 906 children, totalling to 2026 people.
Chief Executive Emma Revie said: “We’ve seen lots of generosity from local people so we don’t think any food banks will run out of food, but if people can keep in mind donating in the new year that would be really helpful as we traditionally see a bit of a dip in donations around then.
“Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration – but for too many people in the South West it’s becoming harder and harder to keep their heads above water.
“Nine in 10 of us believe hunger in the UK is a problem – food banks cannot and should not have to continue to pick up the pieces.
“It’s not right that anyone should have to use a food bank at any time of year – not just at Christmas.”
If you think you could help your local charities, why not see what they’re up to in the coming weeks and get involved in helping improve the lives of those less fortunate in our local area.
Saturday 14th December
- Salvation Army – Lapland to Christmas
Sunday 15th December
- Salvation Army – Family Christmas Celebration
Wednesday 18th December
- Macmillan Local – Rotary Tree of Lights
Friday 20th December
- Youth Cancer Trust – Christmas Party in Havana
Saturday 21st December
- The Kitchen Poole Park – Christmas Quiz Night
Wednesday 25th December
If you don’t get to attend these events, you can donate food or presents to homeless shelters and food banks. You can also donate your money to give (for example) someone a seat at Christmas dinner, giving those less fortunate the opportunity to experience a little bit of the magic Christmas Day has to offer.
- Hope for Food – Christmas food parcel to around 800 families put forward by schools and social services
- Salvation Army – Christmas present appeal
- Bournemouth Foodbank – Christmas Hamper Appeal
- Crisis – Reserve someone a space at Christmas
- Aldi – Giving free food to charities on Christmas Eve
All these charities only function with the help of donations, so if you can, why not give a little something back this Christmas. Or if you can provide your services, sign up to volunteer. This festive season, make it a time for giving and caring.
Readers who can’t spare the extra cash or time can help with just the smallest random act of kindness this Christmas. Just a visit to a lonely neighbour with a mince pie or a glass of sherry could help cheer up their Christmas and make the difference between someone feeling valued or ignored.
To enquire about a space at the Salvation Army’s Christmas Day meal, call their reception on 01202 517989, (however we were warned that spaces are limited, which only highlights the real need for what they are offering this Christmas).