Teesside charity leaders say Christmas has come early after being promised a £25,000 festive gift to support their causes in the toughest of times.
The charity bosses were concerned that that vital festive donations they’ve come to rely on would not be forthcoming due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.
But they breathed a huge sigh of relief after trustees of charitable movement Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation promised to not only retain their usual £15,000 share-out – but give a further £10,000 to other local worthy causes.
Leaders at the local food banks, the Salvation Army’s Christmas Toy Appeal and Stockton charity, the Moses Project, feared Christmas would be cancelled for Teessiders in the most desperate need of some festive cheer.
But not only will they receive their usual Christmas support from a foundation that’s backed by a Who’s Who of local businesses but so too will others including Middlesbrough Homeless Hub, Hartlepool-based Poolie Time Exchange and BAME charity Amal Project.
An “overwhelmed” Soroush Sadeghzaden, project manager at Middlesbrough Foodbank said Christmas “really has come early” with the Philanthropic Foundation’s pledge.
“I can’t thank the Philanthropic Foundation enough,” he said. “Words can’t really describe how we feel.
“I find it difficult at times when I see or hear stories about the poverty some people are living in but this raises everyone’s hope.”
He added: “We have always really appreciated the Foundation’s support, especially at Christmas time when we do see an increase in people accessing our support.
“With this donation, we’ll be able to provide the basic things but also stuff that’s around at Christmas that many of us really take for granted, like chocolate and selection boxes for the children.”
“It means such a lot. What our supporters do is give those in need hope and raise their dignity.
With the funding now available, Soroush says the food bank will now get to work ordering the food stocks they need for the winter period, ready to support those who come forward with food vouchers.
Revealing that the foodbank had seen a 50 per cent increase in demand during lockdown, he said: “Because of the pandemic, we’ve not been able to do things the way we normally would and invite clients into church for a cup of tea or coffee.
“We want to be able to show we care for them and think of them with added extras such as selection boxes.
“For many people, that will be the only gift they receive this Christmas.
“A chocolate bar might be the only gift a child receives. It’s just heart-breaking.
“Between March and June this year we had a 50 per centincrease in people coming to us – that’s 5,500 people,” he said. “We will probably see another sharp increase in November and December, with the furlough scheme coming to an end.”
Kath Callan, who has coordinated Middlesbrough Salvation Army’s Christmas toy appeal for the last 20 years, admitted she had feared no donation from the Philanthropic Foundation would spell the end for the annual appeal.
“I breathed a big sigh of relief when we were told the good news,” she said. “I can’t tell you how much it is appreciated.
“This horrible virus means we need this support now more than ever but I honestly this was the end. People tell us they don’t know what they’d do without our donation but without the Philanthropic Foundation, I couldn’t see how we would help the thousands of children who rely on our donations.
“The truth is that it’s probably going to be the only help we get this year. We normally get donations from the churches but church services aren’t happening in the same way this year.”
Brian Jones, CEO of the Moses Project, which normally serves Christmas dinner to the homeless and struggling families, said: “It’s just absolutely fantastic that the Philanthropic Foundation have come forward with these funds.
“It’s a massive boost towards what we want to do for people this year, which is to put together between 150 and 250 food parcels.
“Normally at Christmas time, we provide a Christmas dinner and Santa comes and everyone gets Christmas gifts.
“We can’t do that this year because of Covid.
“So instead, we want to put together food hampers to give away, including fresh meat and vegetables as well as tins, so that people in need have the means to cook something on Christmas day.
“We also hope to give away toys and gifts to the families we help – and the support from the Foundation will go a long way towards achieving that.
“It will be brilliant if we achieve our aim of reaching 250 parcels and this funding might enable us to do just that.”
Ian Stark, a trustee for the Philanthropic Foundation, said: “This feels pretty special.
“Like so many others, 2020 has been a tough year for our Foundation as we haven’t been able to hold the fundraising events we’d normally hold.
“But our supporters – generous local businesses and individuals – have stuck by us in our hour of need. I’ll be forever grateful for that. Teesside businesses are struggling right now but they’ve continued to show this incredible resilience and spirit of generosity.
“They are the reason our trustees have been able to not only promise our usual £15,000 donation but increase it to £25,000 to support some of the very best local Christmas causes.
“We know this will make a real difference to the most disadvantaged Teessiders, so a massive thank you to everyone who supports us.
“And, on their behalf, I’d express our huge appreciation, admiration and thanks to the many volunteers of our sponsored charities who will give up their time to help needy people this Christmas – they are all amazing.”