Last Christmas was really hard for everyone.
Except those partying at 10 Downing Street.
However despite new restrictions, many of us will still be spending Christmas 2021 in a warm home with a roof over our heads, people we love, food to eat and a present or two to unwrap.
The same can’t be said for millions of Londoners. More than 2.3 million Londoners currently live below the poverty line, with 33% of adults having skipped meals to save money so that their children can eat. There are 700,000 children – or 37 per cent of all children in London – currently living in relative poverty (after you take housing costs into account) plus thousands more who are either homeless; suffering from chronic loneliness; or otherwise in desperate need of help, companionship and support.
Thankfully there are a lot of organisations dedicated to helping the individuals and families who need it most.
Here are just a few…
Gift & Toy Appeals
Thousands of London children were living in poverty before the pandemic struck, and you can imagine how two years of hardship navigating grants, furlough, redundancy or continued unemployment will have affected families in need. There are plenty of charity initiatives, however, who are working to ensure that children across the city have a present to open on Christmas morning this year:
- The East London Christmas Toy Appeal: if you can afford to pick up an extra toy during your Christmas shopping, you can drop it off at Jubilee Place (the big shopping centre in Canary Wharf) Mon-Sat, 9am-5pm. You don’t even need to wrap it, and if you’re not local you can donate online too.
- Safe Link Support: Next Link supports women and children who are fleeing domestic abuse, and will have many people staying in their Safe Houses over the Christmas period. If you have any spare winter clothes for women or children over the age of 6, or toys that would be suitable, you can drop off your donations at 5 Queen Square in Bloomsbury, weekdays 8.30am-5.30pm.
- The Salvation Army is accepting donations of brand new, unwrapped toys and children’s essentials at their hubs across the UK – you can easily see where’s closest using their interactive map.
- If you can’t get out to toy shops or donation points very easily before the big day, KidsOut makes it really easy to help. You can hand-pick the gift you want to donate online, and they’ll deliver it to one of the kids spending Christmas in a refuge.
- You might have seen the huge Tree of Kindness outside Charing Cross station, where you can drop off donations of new items daily. The team have put together a wishlist directly from the vulnerable people they support (the homeless, and families living in poverty), so you know it’ll really be appreciated. They’re also encouraging donors to include a handwritten note in their gift bag.
- Action for Children is looking for secret santas to fund warm clothes, beds and Christmas presents for vulnerable children this Christmas. And if you want to make a bigger donation, maybe as a gift for someone else, you can set up a recurring gift that can pay for essentials like heating or nutritious meals, or just ensure a child gets to take part in a fun activity every month.
- The Childhood Trust is once again teaming up with the Met Police to bring Christmas gifts to children who are being helped by social services this year. Sponsor a gift online up till the 18th (or donate until the 24th), and a social worker will hand-deliver it to one of the children living in foster care or low-income households.
- And finally, The TOY Project is running a pop up shop selling pre-loved toys in Selfridges. You can donate your own second-hand toys or pick up something (often quite retro or unusual) off the shelves – money raised will go towards supporting the charity’s initiatives all year round. It’s open till the 23rd, and it just happens to be pretty eco-conscious, too.
Supporting the Elderly
- Re-engage is a great resource for those over the age of 75 who are facing a Christmas on their own this year, collating hundreds of free festive events that are searchable by postcode. You can find somewhere near you that might need help taking guests to and from venues, prepping meals or just providing some festive cheer at the event itself. And if you can’t help out in person, you can always donate or help a neighbour use the list to find somewhere to go at Christmas.
- North London theatre Jackson’s Lane has been hosting a Christmas meal for elderly locals for the past 45 years – although last year looked a little different, when they delivered food hampers to nearly 250 North London residents. This year they’re continuing with both initiatives, and are looking for helpers for either strand.
Helping the Homeless
- Crisis at Christmas is taking place for the 50th year this Christmas. It’s an ‘open shelter’ for those without a home, where they can come in for practical help like getting a haircut, a health check-up, and a hot shower, but also something for the spirit – company, compassion and a bit of fun, with Christmas crafts, festive meals and activities. If you’ve got an area of expertise, you can volunteer to run workshops, help with grooming, or lend a hand in catering, but there’s also plenty of opportunities to volunteer in hotels, call centres, or help remotely by checking in with guests over the phone.
- If you can spare a couple of hours on Christmas Day, the Single Homeless Project is popping up all over London to offer hot meals – which is where you come in. You’ll be given a training session and reimbursed for any travel expenses, but they’ll try to match you to a location near you.
- Wishlist donations may have closed, but there’s still a few days to volunteer your time wrapping gifts for Bankside residents who are elderly, have mental health conditions or are homeless.
- And if you’re short on time but still want to make a difference, Centrepoint, the charity tackling youth homelessness, has plenty of bundles you can donate yourself or on behalf of someone as a gift, ranging from essential toiletries and room sponsorship to study kits and even music lessons.
- The Felix Project goes around collecting food that would otherwise go to waste, and redistributes it to charities, primary schools and Christmas projects – and they couldn’t make it easier to get involved. They’re looking for food-sorting volunteers from 21st-24th December, you can sign up really easily to slots online, and there are inductions at the start of every session so you won’t be standing around like a lemon wondering where to start. Each hour you volunteer creates around 100 meals, so it makes a huge impact.
- Hackney Foodbank is encouraging people to run a ‘reverse advent calendar’ this year, where you collect a different food item every day before dropping it off at their warehouse for distribution. If you’re going in to work regularly, this could be a good way to get the whole team behind something.
- Morrisons has made it really easy to donate to local food banks if you keep meaning to pick up extra items in the shop but end up forgetting. Their ‘pick-up packs’ are pre-packed grab bags priced up to £4, packed with items that food banks report are most in demand locally – plus a little festive treat, too.
- King’s Church is based across a couple of sites in South-East London, and sends out big red boxes packed with food and festive treats to vulnerable people in the area. If you’ve got a car and want to help with deliveries, they’d love to hear from you.
- Donating to local food banks always makes a huge difference, and especially at Christmas. You can easily find one local to you on The Trussell Trust’s website.
- If you want to lend support to refugees this winter, Care4Calais works to distribute vital supplies such as waterproof boots and coats, scarves, and brand new socks & underwear. You can either donate directly, or make your donation as a gift voucher for that friend or family member who insists they don’t want you to get them anything this year.
- You can do something similar at Choose Love, who put together practical bundles as well as constructive services like skills training, language lessons or legal support to help reunite separated families. Items start at £5 for emergency foil blankets and go up to £550 if you want to buy the whole ‘store’ – and again, you can donate on someone else’s behalf as a gift, too. Buy online, or visit their pop up on Carnaby Street right up until Christmas eve.
If you’re in a position to help out then there are many ways to lend a little support. The key is just to pick one and do it now, making a genuine difference to someone’s life this Christmas while you can.
Main Image Credit: Kira Auf Der Heide