“No child should go without at Christmas.” Here’s why the local Toybox Appeal took every step to ensure the region’s youngsters had something to smile about.
North Wales Superkids is a year-round charity that helps bring joy to youngsters and families across the region. The people Superkids and the Toybox Appeal help are those who are desperate for life to give them a break. These are children and young people up to the age of 25 who are socially and economically disadvantaged. These concerns can be through financial hardship, domestic violence, health, substance misuse or other social and economic factors.
The history behind the Toybox Appeal
Every year since 1999, the charity has worked with local authorities and agencies to ensure the children who would normally go without get presents on Christmas day. This Toybox Appeal then works by appealing for donations of brand new toys for children of all ages from the local community and businesses. These generous donations are then stored and sorted at the charity’s unit in Mold, before being distributed to children before the big day.
Margaret Williams MBE, a former Flint social worker who founded the charity, said their existence is a sign of the world we live in. She said: “It’s sad and a disgrace that food banks – and ourselves really – exist, but this is need over want. For children, the most important day of the whole year is Christmas Day. Imagine all that excitement and build-up, then waking up on Christmas morning to no presents. It’s heartbreaking for them.”
The charity liaises with agencies who work with deprived families – whether that’s social services, local authorities, healthcare service and even some schools. It’s these agencies that then put forward a recommended list for the year, which Margaret then takes and works her magic with.
Each bag is specifically designed for a child, and each gift carefully selected to suit the age group, interests, and needs. Two decades ago when the charity started, they managed to help nearly 200 children in North Wales. Year on year the charity grew, and in 2019 they distributed toys to over 1,500 children in need.
The Toybox Appeal in 2020
“It is not just about topping up families’ Christmas presents – this is specifically for families where no basic Christmas will be happening,” Margaret highlights year on year.
“Father Christmas is a key worker too. To children, he’s as important as healthcare workers, shop assistants, delivery drivers. And Christmas won’t just stop for Covid.”
Margaret feared the social and economic turmoil the Covid-19 pandemic brought would make her list even longer by the end of 2020. She said: “The usual reasons like families working on a low income will be there but on top of that we’ll probably need to account for people that are in the process of losing their jobs.
“Maybe they’ve been furloughed and they’ll sadly be losing their job. But benefits now won’t kick in before Christmas because they take about six weeks. They’re the ones that are really going to be in trouble.” Looking back, Margaret realised that so many more families in need contacted Superkids in 2020. This highlighted just how crucial and poignant the charity’s work was.
This is why we wanted to jump on board and help make sure the strange and unfortunate year we’ve had has a happy ending. Not just for our lovely guests and owners, but for the wider community too. We set up two drop-off points (Lyons Lido Beach and Lyons Robin Hood) and appealed to our wonderful owners for a little helping hand. The response was uplifting, and we were proud to see a community come together.
Socially-distanced elves at work
Not only did the charity have the mammoth task of organising tens of thousands of donated gifts. This year, they were required to adhere to all Covid-19 regulations and upkeep an immaculate health and safety process. It required constant carefulness and a rigorous regime, but the results reaped was worth it.
She said: “We only allowed one person down the aisle at one time, and everything was structured. Desks were sanitised, door handles – anything we touched. You couldn’t just take a box of toys from someone like before. Everything that came in sat in quarantine for 72 hours before being put on the self. We were just getting our heads around it, but once we got that into our minds, it became normal.”
The agency staff who referred families in need also came to collect the parcels in allocated time slots. This ‘click and collect’ system, according to Margaret, stopped people from popping in and out at will. She said: “Once we had the safety aspects down, we were full steam ahead.”
What did Margaret think of the Toybox Appeal this year?
September was the beginning of the road for Margaret and her dedicated team of elves. She said: “In September, I thought the plan was ‘OK we’re going to do this – perhaps one present was as far as we could go with a referral. But all of a sudden it exploded – in a good way.
“It was absolutely manic, and the last three weeks were constant. My daughters dedicated every hour they could away from their uni work. I was up at the unit myself seven days a week. I spent all the hours God gave me just making sure the bags would be sent out. Because of Covid restrictions, we could only have two people in at once. But hey, we got there!”
Margaret and her team were blown away by the donations that kept pouring in. They had about 10-12 actual drop off points between Llandudno and Wrexham, including the two Lyons sites. Wrexham Football Club also got on board, with many more businesses emerging from the woodwork. Margaret said: “Businesses that haven’t contacted us before got in touch, and have promised to help this year too. The response from the community was absolutely phenomenal.”
How did the Toybox Appeal go?
The wonderful donation of gifts was truly appreciated and made a huge difference. Not only to the Toybox Appeal, but to all the 2250 youngsters who received a bag of gifts to open Christmas morning. Margaret said they try as best as they can to match the youngster to their bag, but sometimes it can be difficult.
However, with the donations from the community and our lovely Lyons owners, Margaret and her team were able to make something special. “We ensured the smiles, not the tears. Mind you, I believe there were many tears this time. Happy ones, from grateful and relieved parents. Due to their circumstances, they had no idea how they were going to provide even a basic Christmas for their youngsters. Some of these parents were totally reduced to tears knowing that somebody had bothered to give them presents. It consequently made their Christmas and year, so once again, a huge thank you to all.”
However, Margaret had mixed feelings about the situation 2020 presented. She shared: “I feel sort of guilty in thinking Covid was a positive thing for us. Yes, there were negatives – like how many people could help when we had to quarantine stuff. Yes, there were negatives as to whether we would be able to do it. But the plus side of it was that everybody seemed more aware of need this year. Before, the reasons why families would have needed our help led some people to believe it’s their own fault. But this year, people were in trouble and there was nothing they could do. So the community helped.”
What’s in store this year?
All the meticulous planning, Covid-19 safety regimes, and heartfelt pleas to the community have paid off. Margaret had faith it would work, and is now “confident” that they can do it under any circumstance. Whatever this year brings, Margaret and her team of elves now know what to do in a time of crisis: carry on providing for those in need.
North Wales Superkids also hosts a popular craft club, organises pantomime trips, and offers holidays to families in need at their caravan in Abersoch. But with government restrictions looming already this year, Margaret isn’t sure the charity will be able to sail smoothly.
She said: “I just don’t know what this year will bring to be honest. We have a craft club, but whether we can use it remains to be seen. Without knowing what the situation will be, we can’t plan ahead. But even if we can’t go ahead, the only thing I do know is that we will be doing the Toybox Appeal again.”
To find out more, visit: https://www.northwalessuperkids.co.uk/