A charity is giving out 7,500 Christmas presents to help families have the “magical Christmas that everybody dreams of”.
The Surrey-based charity Santa Stork has been helping to provide toys and gifts for children and their parents across the county.
Families can choose from a catalogue of 76 gifts and also get a stocking filler with wrapping paper, sticky tape and gift tags.
Donna Pariser, charity manager, told the PA news agency: “We don’t want anyone to go without on Christmas Day.
It's always nice to get a gift but even nicer if it's one you really want
Donna Pariser, charity manager
“Referral partners involve the families throughout the process and it’s all about choice… it’s always nice to get a gift but even nicer if it’s one you really want.”
The charity will even include a present for the parent or carers and the key worker who referred the family.
Ms Pariser said this year’s most popular gifts have included footballs, Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol and Spider-Man toys, and lava lamps for teenagers.
If a child has their heart set on a particular present the charity will do what it can to accommodate them.
“One of the requests we got through this year was a seven-year-old girl who really wanted a rainbow duvet cover, so we took some of the funds and made that happen,” Ms Pariser said.
“If the child’s only getting one gift, we want it to be the one thing they’ve asked Father Christmas for.”
Santa Stork is part of Stripey Stork, which started in 2013 as a small charity and has since grown to support families across Surrey even winning a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2019.
The charity, predominantly run by volunteers, works in a similar way to food banks to provide essentials for families with children under the age of 16.
After the start of the pandemic in March 2020, Ms Pariser said referrals increased “almost overnight”.
Many of the families had never relied on a charity before but found it hard to cope due to the loss of income caused by lockdowns.
Ms Pariser said this year’s Christmas would be a “luxury some families just can’t afford”.
“Christmas is a joyful time that we all look forward to but this is not the case for the families that we’re helping… many of them pretend it’s not happening,” she told PA.
Now in its seventh year, Santa Stork aims to help 5,000 children and 2,500 parents and carers through referrals from social services and schools.
A fundraiser set up to support the Christmas campaign has already raised over £23,000 in donations.
The charity also raises awareness of the social and psychological impacts of growing up in poverty.
“We’ve all heard of Santa’s naughty and nice list, so these children might feel that perhaps they’re not as deserving as their peers, which is very sad,” said Ms Pariser.
“Sometimes we will hear ‘the older child understands and doesn’t believe in Father Christmas any more’ – and you just think, this kid is 10 years old, they should get a gift.
“When they go back to school in January, all their buddies in class are talking about what they got for Christmas.
“By providing these gifts we are giving the children something to open on Christmas Day, and it means they can participate and be like everyone else.”