Charity provides Christmas toys for 500 Pembrokeshire children
"Christmas cancelled" has become "Christmas complete" for more than 500 children in Pembrokeshire, following the work of an anti-poverty charity and the generosity of strangers.
Pembrokeshire Action to Combat Hardship (PATCH) hands out free food parcels, clothing and households items to people in a financial crisis all year round.
Items are donated to the charity's basics banks and various drop-off points by members of the public.
"Last year we gave food parcels to benefit more than 3,500 people and that number is growing," said PATCH co-ordinator Tracy Olin.
This time of year is particularly busy for Mrs Olin and PATCH volunteers, with the annual Christmas toy appeal in full swing.
The charity's Milford Haven headquarters is chock-a-block with thousands of donated toys which will be given to children who would otherwise go without on Christmas Day.
Mrs Olin explained the idea for the toy appeal came about seven years ago when she met a woman who had "debt collectors knocking at her door."
"People kept going up to her kids saying 'if you're good Father Christmas will come and see you', and she was desperate for her children not to think they had been naughty," she said.
"It just so happened that NatWest bank had some leftover toys from its Christmas toy appeal and they just happened to be for the ages of her children.
"It then became obvious that we needed to do one."
Mrs Olin said the first few years were easy, but as the appeal grew, so did the number of referrals. So far this year, almost 200 families, including more than 500 children, have been referred.
She explained the referral system for the toy appeal is "more lenient" than the system used for the basics banks.
"Our day-to-day stuff is for people who are in a financial crisis, but the toy appeal is more about debt prevention," said Mrs Olin.
"People will borrow money at extortionate interest rates, sometimes running into the thousand per cent."
"It's so important that kids have a Christmas and for parents to see their children have a Christmas. That is why we do not wrap the presents we donate, so it comes from them and not some anonymous charity," said Mrs Olin.
Each referred child receives:
- Four new toys
- Art materials
- Soft toy
- Family game
- Sweets and chocolates
Everything is packed in a box with a roll of wrapping paper, sticky tape and delivered courtesy of the charity Pembrokeshire FRAME.
Mrs Olin was full of praise for the "generosity of the Pembrokeshire people".
"Every year I panic that we're not going to have enough toys and every year I wonder why because the people of Pembrokeshire always come up trumps," she said.
As well as public donations, PATCH receives toys from Radio Pembrokeshire and Valero Pembroke Refinery, supermarkets and banks, as well as cheques.
"There are always children that get to me, and this year it was a cheque from a family of four kids who decided they wanted to give their Christmas money to the less fortunate.
"The big cheques are wonderful and of course we need them, but when a kid gives up their pocket money or their Christmas present it really touches me."
PATCH would also not be able to function without the work of its volunteers.
It has more than 60 regular volunteers who work at the basics banks all year around, and hundreds more people give up their time to take part in the Christmas toy sort.
Among them are Sainsbury's workers Jane Jones and Tracey Rees.
Mrs Rees said: "PATCH has been Sainsbury's charity of the year for two years and we just love helping the community."
Mrs Jones said: "It's nice to be able to come out and help, especially at Christmas time. It's good to know that so many children will not be going without."
Mrs Olin said her involvement in the toy appeal made her "feel like Father Christmas."
"Christmas is about giving," she said.
"People donate toys without knowing what's going to happen to them and they trust us to give to the appropriate people.
"They don't get anything back in return, not even a thank you.
"It's phenomenal that people can do that."