All of the items were sorted and packed by a fantastic team of 35 staff volunteers on Thursday 14 December, much to the delight of Ruth McCaughley, the Whitechapel Centre’s Fundraising Manager. "It's fantastic to see so many gifts and so many volunteers," she says. "I would like to say thank you very much to all the LJMU staff and students who have supported us with this appeal. It is always so heart-warming to see how much people give and I am overwhelmed with the generosity. To share with people who have so little, it will make a huge difference this Christmas."
The Whitechapel/LJMU Christmas Appeal Appeal ran between 14 November and 12 December, with charity collection bins located across the University, and the response from staff and students was phenomenal. All of the donations were collected from around the city and taken to the John Lennon Art and Design Building to be sorted, with staff volunteers donning Christmas jumpers and hats as they sifted through the mountains of items before they were delivered to the Whitechapel Centre HQ.
One volunteer was Beryl Wright, Student Accommodation Officer. "Homelessness is the most awful thing, and I feel so sad that some people don’t have a home to go to that I decided to give up an hour or two to help with the sorting and packing of gifts," she explains. "It’s been really great fun. There’s a fabulous atmosphere and all the staff volunteers have pulled together to get the job done really quickly. I’d love to get involved again and would recommend it to all staff."
"Homelessness is a key public health issue so it is important that it is highlighted," adds the Director of the Public Health Institute Jim McVeigh who also lent a hand sorting donations. "Anything that can be done on a practical basis as well as raising its profile has to be a positive thing. I am involved with the Whitechapel Centre and initially came up with the appeal idea just within my Faculty but after some discussion we decided to make it a university-wide appeal. I’m amazed at the response. It just shows how caring people at LJMU are."
The range of items was extensive - from chocolates to socks, aftershave to wrapping paper, toys to mince pies as Michelle Laing, Leadership and Development Foundation Associate explained "I’m amazed at how many presents staff and students have given and we had so many volunteers to sort them all, but unfortunately we couldn’t fit them all in to the sorting room!"
Thanks to the support of staff, the University will bring some much needed comfort to homeless people during the forthcoming festive season as Ruth explains:
"The aim of this appeal is to provide Christmas presents to our community who would probably otherwise not receive any gifts. In addition to supporting rough sleepers, we accommodate families in two hostels, with a total of 29 flats. We also have a Children's and Young Person's Worker and in total 140 children will benefit. All the gifts will be targeted to the right people. So parents will be able to select their own children's gifts and we will supply rolls of wrapping paper so they can wrap the gifts themselves."
Ruth continues: "In the run-up to Christmas our floating support staff will also be visiting people who are at risk of homelessness at about 100 different properties, to present them with gifts. Then on Christmas Day, the Whitechapel Centre will open its doors to between 60 and 80 people who will also receive a gift bag, full of toiletries, hats, gloves, scarves, food items and other festive goodies."
The good news is that since Mayor Joe Anderson announced the relaxation of rules relating to temporary accommodation, there are more options for street homeless people. "The council has a new building, Labre House on Camden Street, which will provide as a night shelter all winter, open to all, every night of the week regardless of temperature or other factors," says Ruth. "It's a five storey building that offers plenty of space so should never be at capacity. Going forward, there are plans to develop the building to turn it into a one stop homeless support centre offering mental health and addiction services in addition to the overnight shelter."
If you didn’t get a chance to donate or volunteer you can still make a difference by visiting the Whitechapel Centre website and making a one off Christmas contribution.
The Whitechapel Centre is one of LJMU’s four corporate charities.
Thanks to Mindfull Meals who treated the volunteering team to a tasty, healthy brunch.