I don't think anyone would argue against the idea that Christmas is more commercialised than ever. The average spend per child is now nudging £200, and research suggests that most of us won't finish paying for this Christmas until at least next April.
For some this kind of spending - or anything like it - simply isn't an option though. Across the UK over 120,000 children will spend Christmas homeless in temporary accomodation, or worse, and over 70,000 in the care of their local authority.
In Torfaen, social services run an annual Santa Appeal to ensure some of our most vulnerable children and young people don't miss out at Christmas. To take part you need to ring 01633 647539; you will be given the first name and age of the child, and a reference number to put on your donation. Gifts must be left unwrapped so they can be checked, but a donation of wrapping paper or gift bags is very appreciated! Once your gift is ready, you need to take it to one of the three drop off points by Monday 3rd December.
☆ Cwmbran Library, Gwent Square, Cwmbran Shopping Centre, NP44 1PL.
☆ TYPSS, The Studio, Oldbury Business Estate, Cwmbran NP44 3JU.
☆ Civic Centre, Glantorvaen Road, Pontypool, NP4 6YN.
You can also donate non-perishable food to make up hampers for young people aged 16 and over who are living alone. In fact, food donations - along with essentials like toiletries, loo roll, nappies and sanitary products - are desperately needed throughout December and January when pressure on food banks is at its highest. Check out the Eastern Valley Foodbank website to find out where your nearest drop off point is.
If you don't live in Torfaen, or are unable to spare much, there are plenty of other options to help you spread the joy this Christmas. (There are so many good causes out there that it's impossible to include them all, so in this post I have focused on those which involve donations of objects, or money for a tangible thing - eg. £10 to buy a toy, animal sponsorship, etc - rather than just general cash donations.)
APPEALS WITHIN THE UK
In addition to googling for your local appeals, there are some UK wide schemes which would be grateful for your help.
☆ Salvation Army Christmas Present Appeal. Donate new and unwrapped toys and gifts for children who might not otherwise receive them. You can generally drop them off at your nearest Salvation Army church.
☆ Giving Tree. Run by KidsOut, this scheme involves donating gifts worth £5 - £10 (or cash) which are then distributed to children in refuges. The idea is that it replaces 'secret santa' exchanges at work, but individuals can take part too.
☆ Cash For Kids - Mission Christmas. Operating across Scotland, England, and N. Ireland, this scheme asks for the donation of a new and unwrapped child's gift and drop it off at a local participating store.
☆ Refuge. Committed to safeguarding women and children against domestic abuse, Refuge enable people to buy individual gifts or parcels to help the charity's service users - these range from Christmas dinner (£5) to law parcels offering legal support (£100). In return Refuge sends out a thank you card which you can then gift to friends and relatives.
☆ MHA Christmas Friendship Appeal. MHA are a charity which runs care homes and retirement living complexes across England and Wales, and every year they appeal for people to send Christmas cards so that each of their residents can receive an unexpected Christmas greeting. This is such a lovely scheme that even those who couldn't otherwise afford to donate can get involved in.
APPEALS AROUND THE WORLD
☆ Operation Christmas Child. This is probably the best known gift appeal in the UK, the idea being that you fill a shoebox with presents and essentials which is then shipped off to needy children. The format is particularly well suited to schools, and over the years I've taken part numerous times. However the cut off date is relatively early - November 18th this year - and there is some controversy over Samaritan's Purse, the evangelical US organisation which runs it.
☆ Link To Hope. Another Christian shoebox appeal, but this one doesn't include evangelical literature with the boxes and does not discriminate when it comes to their distribution across Eastern Europe. The nice thing about this scheme is that you can also do boxes for the whole family, or for the elderly, which broadens out the scope for getting involved. Registration has closed for 2018, but it might be one to keep in mind for next year.
☆ Good Gifts. 'Changing lives one gift at a time.' The great thing about this scheme is that you can be sure you're purchasing something the recipient needs with your donation - be that song sheets for a community choir (£12), or a toilet block for a school in Africa (£450).
☆ Oxfam Unwrapped. There is a huge range of charity gifts available here; from a poverty busting pig (£23) to a pile of poo (£12)! You go ahead and buy the thing online, and then Oxfam sends you a gift card to present to your friends and family. You can add on little extras to go with the card like flower seeds or chocolates too. I've bought Marianna a chicken through it this year. :)
☆ AquaBox. Raise funds for emergency aid boxes and water filtration kits. Another similar scheme is ShelterBox which provides tents, thermal blankets, and other emergency supplies.
ANIMALS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
☆ Adopt an Animal. These schemes make great gifts for people because they tend to include lots of extras, such as cuddly toys or regular updates on the animal's welfare. No matter what kind of animal you're interested in, there's a package out there for you! Providers include Durrell, WDC, WWF, Born Free, World Horse Welfare, Wildlife Aid, Wildlife Trust, Blue Cross, and more. Many farms and zoos run an adoption scheme too, so check out your local one for further info.
☆ Protect the Environment. You can buy acres of rainforest to protect them from development, help species conservation, or dedicate a tree, woodland or bench to someone special. (No judgement if the someone is yourself!) There are a number of charities which offer this kind of service, including World Land Trust, Woodland Trust, and Kew Gardens. Local councils and parks also tend to offer tree adoption and suchlike, so check out those close to you.