• York Rotary

The Christmas Toys Challenge

Updated: Feb 7

Andrew Dunkinson

gives a summary of his talk on January 29th...

The run up to Christmas for us is extremely busy with the usual Advent Church programme and our usual Christmas Community programme which includes the Christmas Toy and Food Appeal and our Christmas Day lunch for people who would otherwise be on their own. I’ve been asked today to talk about the Christmas Toy & Food Appeal which the Club have so generously supported over recent years and I’ll do so using the heading of Christmas Covid Challenges.

In past years we’ve borrowed temporary storage facilities - 2019 began renting a storage unit by Dean’s Garden Centre from which to run the appeal. In June I write to Churches and schools for non perishable foodstuffs. In September/October we collect and sort the donated produce, confirm collection points and sponsors. In November we launch the appeal via press releases , and various other methods. Herbert Todd & Sons sponsor the design and printing of 25,000 leaflets (thank you Graham). We order additional bulk food supplies (which normally Rotary have helped to sponsor). In December we collate referrals, collect and sort donated items, coordinate collections of food and toys by social workers over a 2 day period in mid December. There would also be lots of frantic fundraising.

Covid Challenges

Those of us that have had businesses could never have contemplated pre planning in case of a worldwide pandemic. We might have planned for power cuts or strikes but Covid took everybody by surprise. The swings between lockdowns and tiers threatened our whole campaign. Would there be a lockdown? How would that impact us? What shops, offices, businesses that normally donate or collect toys would be open? Would the public go out and purchase gifts if there was a lockdown? What quarantine requirements would need to be put into place for donated items? When we launched the appeal, would social workers be able/willing to collect and distribute the gifts or food if they were working from home? Instead of the usual 20 schools and churches donating harvest produce, we had 1 school donate. Should I bulk purchase food or gift vouchers for shortages in toys and food? The storage unit and processes would need to be made Covid secure.

Many social Workers were working from home , so offices to store items weren’t available. Initially we ordered £11,000 of vouchers, through SA procurement, to supplement toys and food shortages. Tesco agreed to act as the major collection point through lockdown and they agreed to distribute the printed flyer in their home delivery orders, so we brought forward the launch date and launched the appeal.

As it became obvious that the appeal had struck a cord with the public and that the donation of gifts were forthcoming, I made the decision to reduce the gift voucher order to £6,000. Despite many businesses being closed and so many people affected by the pandemic, the public’s response was amazing. Tesco’s promotion of the appeal was fantastic. The online appeal smashed the £8,000 target that I’d set, raising an additional 50% over and above. That meant that all the costs of the appeal, including the storage unit and on costs were paid for in their entirety.

Despite the restrictions, 741 children were referred to us by statutory agencies for toys/gifts and 240 families for supported through additional food. This was the most children we’d ever provided gifts for.

Every Christmas, we brace ourselves not knowing whether enough gifts/toys will be donated to meet the referral demand. Though I didn’t lose too much sleep in the run up to the appeal, we were committed to providing support to local families who might be struggling.

That determination meant we, like everyone else, had to think outside of the box to deliver what we promised and that was that Christmas wouldn’t be cancelled for those struggling in the community.

We’ve been in York now for nearly 10 years and I have to say that I’ve never known such a supportive and generous community. So, thank you members for donating to us through the donate a lunch scheme for helping us to continue to help others.

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