Leeds's Homeless Street Angels issue plea for donations of gifts to give those on the city's streets this Christmas
The founders of a charity which supports the city’s homeless have issued a rallying cry for the people of Leeds to get behind their annual bid to give rough sleepers a Christmas to remember.
Each year, sisters Becky and Shelley Joyce, of Homeless Street Angels, and their army of volunteers hand out donated gifts and treats on Christmas Eve to those living on the city’s streets.
The charity’s ‘Rucksack Appeal’ is now in its fourth year and sees bags stuffed full of presents, a mix of essential items and treats - which are all gift-wrapped during a festive family event in December - handed out to the homeless and less fortunate alongside a hot Christmas dinner.
And Becky said the need will be there more than ever this Christmas as the volume of those they support has been growing post-Covid.
“It’s getting busier and busier every week,” she said.
“There were seven [new] homeless just this week that we’ve come across.
“I think Covid has affected quite a lot of people.
“There’s less money, so they’ve not been able to pay rent. The rent shortfall has stopped - where they couldn’t be evicted if they fell behind on rent during Covid, that’s now been stopped - and the £20 a week extra Universal Credit has gone. Also people arguing throughout lockdown and a lot of drinking started during lockdown
“There are lots of factors.”
The charity's annual ‘gift-wrapping’ event - which had to be cancelled last year due to the pandemic - has now been organised for December 5 at The Bar on Park Lane, at Roundhay Golf Club, from 2-7pm, where families help make the rucksacks during fun-filled afternoon with tombola, stalls, raffle, music and food.
Shelley said: “It'll be bigger and better and better than ever. We've a bigger venue and more stalls arranged and even a Santa's visit and live choir."
But Becky said at the moment they are still desperate for gift and treat contributions, with the charity’s fundraising having taken a hit post-Covid and donations so far being slow to take off.
"At the moment we’re struggling a bit to get everything for the rucksacks.
“We normally have more by now. We had to set it up late because we needed to make sure we’d be able to go ahead [with the gift-wrapping event] so we haven’t had a lot of response.”
Rucksacks can be sponsored for £25 or people are encouraged to donate essential and/or treat items.
Essential items needed for the rucksacks include: baby wipes, tissues, hats, scarves, gloves, socks, underwear, deodorant, snacks and drinks and chocolate bars and treats.
Suggested gift treats include gift boxes, aftershave, perfume, boxes of chocolates, puzzle books and pens, hand warmers, make up sets, umbrellas and ponchos.
The charity needs to create at least 100 rucksacks - 80 for men and 20 for women.
Becky urged people to come along to the gift-wrapping event on December 5.
“It’s just such a nice time for everybody. It’s family time, it’s Christmas time. It’s coming together and know that you’re doing something for the guys on the street so that they don’t miss out on Christmas,” she said.
Aside from their annual rucksack appeal, Homeless Street Angels go out every Thursday to feed and clothe the homeless across the city centre and in Headingley.
They also opened a food bank during the pandemic after being contacted by struggling families and now, every Saturday, they distribute food parcels - going from supporting six families initially to now having 136 on their books.
This is on top of daily outreach service, supporting those that have been re-housed and working through emergency call-outs and home visits to help with struggles such as bills.
The pair now have a core group of 26 volunteers and also a waiting list stretching into next year of many more who want to help out.
Becky, who also juggles her part-time job running a cleaning business, said: “We both say we wake up every day and we love what we do so much. We are on this earth to do what we do.”
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