Caroline Verdon: Help make sure every child is remembered this Christmas

Radio Aire presenters and staff promote Mission Christmas for Kids. PIC: Simon Hulme
Radio Aire presenters and staff promote Mission Christmas for Kids. PIC: Simon Hulme
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The atmosphere in the office this week is less than cheery.

Each year Radio Aire’s charity Cash for Kids launches ‘Mission Christmas’ and promises to make sure that no child in Leeds or West Yorkshire wakes up without a present on Christmas morning but to be blunt, this year it is NOT going well. On the face of it, you’d think it was a pretty easy task. Sure our wonderful city certainly has some areas of depravation but not that many will be so hard up that there’ll be not get a single present right? Wrong. One in four children in Leeds and West Yorkshire are classified as living in poverty and this year we’ve had more applications for gifts than ever before – over 24,000 and still rising. And to be frank, we are nowhere near a point of fulfilling these yet.

Last week on the breakfast show, we spoke to a headteacher of a Leeds primary school that requests presents for pupils each year. They wanted to remain anonymous but told us what life was like for some of their children.

“Our children are very disadvantaged, they don’t get what other children get. They’re struggling to get enough to eat, they’re living in rooms where the whole family is in one room, they don’t have beds, they don’t get birthday presents and they don’t get Christmas presents. They’re struggling on a daily basis.”

Their words shook me. The children don’t have beds? Beds! How can this be happening right here under our noses? Amidst the cocktail bars and restaurants on Greek Street and the designer shops in Victoria Gate?

I can’t imagine not getting a present at Christmas or birthdays. When I was a child my parents didn’t have a lot of money but I was lucky enough to be oblivious to any financial pressure they were under and not only did I always get presents – but like the majority of kids, I expected them.

It breaks my heart to think that children will be waking up here in Leeds on Christmas morning without a single present unless we help. It breaks not just for the children, excluded from a tradition that is so engrained that it’s almost a right of passage, but also for the parents having to make desperate choices between eating and heating, having to choose medical equipment and hospital parking fees over presents and being forced to explain to their children that it’s absolutely not because they’ve been naughty but that they’ve just been dealt a very cruel hand.

The headteacher went on to say: “Any present that these children get is very special to them. It brings a massive smile to their face. They’ll come into school and share with the teachers and the other children this wonderful gift that somebody has given to them because it is a momentous event in their life.”

At the moment, the situation at the Mission Christmas HQ is dire. It can’t be described as anything else. Boxes that by now should be full of donated presents are practically empty. Volunteers from all over Leeds and West Yorkshire who have given up their time to help drive presents from their collection points to our HQ and then out to recipients are being sent home because there just isn’t enough for them to do. At the time of writing we have received 24,035 applications for gifts and that number is rising daily. These come in from registered bodies – schools, food banks, other charities – who contact us to say they specifically have children who will wake up with nothing. We promise that we will fulfill these applications – we’ve always been able to in the past.

So far this year we have only managed to fulfil 4,731 requests. That’s not even 20% There is still time to turn this around. We’ve not long had payday and most of us are still Christmas shopping but the long and the short of it is that we desperately need your help.

We need unwrapped new gifts suitable for a child from birth to 18 years old. If you’re too busy to drop a present into one of our drop off points then you can donate money online at www.radioaire.co.uk and the team will go shopping on your behalf.

Perhaps you’re a business looking to make a charitable donation? Please help us make sure every child is remembered.

Hold a festive jumper day

Another way you can get involved with Mission Christmas is by having a Christmas Jumper Day.

We’re asking work places to get involved so grab your colleagues, take £1 from each of them and get them to turn up to work in their best Christmas knitwear.

This year I searched high and low for a good one and in the end Asda at Killingbeck had the best one for me – it’s navy and says “I’ll be there in a prossec- ho-ho-ho” in gold sequins. Very apt.

It also has a button on it that when pushed sets off a load of multicoloured Christmas lights that remind me of that Christmas Special of The Vicar of Dibley back in the day when Alice got married in a fairy lit wedding dress and had Tinkey Winky as a bridesmaid.

Essentially it’s beautifully garish and I was hugely looking forward to wearing it only the boss has had other ideas.

He’s ordered Ant and I a “sharing” Christmas jumper.

He’s calling it a “twosie” and it’s essentially one jumper with two head holes and apparently we’re wearing it all day and he’s set up a load of tasks for us to complete including playing a doubles table tennis match.

Ant’s suggested it’s going to be really warm in there so he might not wear anything underneath it. I’ve suggested that that definitely is not in my contract.

If you’d like to get involved in Christmas jumper day head to www.radioaire.co.uk

What about the turkey tradition?

It’s the season of the work Christmas party and like many workplaces, our emails are getting clogged up with the party organiser asking for us all to hurry up and reply with our menu choices.

I’m not going to name the place we’re going because by the law of Christmas, based on its menu it would probably get closed down because there is no turkey option! None! On a Christmas party menu! How can this even be?

Ant’s tried to argue that I could go for the roast chicken and that chicken tastes better than turkey anyway but I’m having none of it.

I can’t be the only one who thinks Christmas food isn’t about the taste it’s about the tradition can I?

Bring me the dry tasteless bird and the Christmas pudding so heavy it could sink a battleship!

Caroline Verdon is one half of the breakfast show at Radio Aire.

You can hear Caroline and Ant between 6-10am every weekday morning.

FARM FOOD: Blacker Hall Farm, near Wakefield.

Restaurant review: Blacker Hall Farm, near Wakefield