A GROUP which has worked for vulnerable families in the town for 40 years is hoping that more people than ever will back this year’s Toys and Teens Appeal.

As presents begin to roll in for the annual campaign, which is backed by the Chronicle, the kindhearted people behind it spoke about its beginnings.

“Reading Family Aid (RFA) started in the 1970s, with a group of volunteers helping young mothers at Katesgrove House Adult Centre,” said long-standing member Sallie Wall.

“In the early years, RFA concentrated on giving practical support to mothers attending the centre. We also arranged for Father Christmas to deliver gifts to their children. On hearing of this, the council’s department of social services asked us to provide gifts for needy children across the whole of Reading.

“So, each year we invited the area’s health visitors and Social Workers to nominate families in need, and filled sacks with donated toys for distribution.”

The Chronicle came on board as the appeal’s main sponsor around 20 years ago, as our then-Editor Joe Wise was good friends with Reading Family Aid founding member Vera Box – who, after 40 years of volunteering for the charity, is still a member of the RFA committee.

Ms Wall added: “As the number of deprived children grew, from the initial 100 or so to the current figure of around 1,500, we had to seek larger premises in which to sort and pack the toys.

“Since 1998 we have been given the use of a large church hall in Reading, and we call upon an expanding army of volunteers to help sort and pack through the donations.

“From two days in the 1980s, it now takes six days to manage the toy project, with months of preparation beforehand.”

In recent years the annual Toys and Teens Appeal has received around 10,000 donations of new or ‘as new’ toys from the good people of Reading, to re-gift to disadvantaged children living in the borough each Christmas.

All families have been nominated by social workers and support organisations across the Reading area.

Last year around 1350 children from more than 600 families received a selection of toys in time for Christmas.

Vice chair Ruth Perkins said: “It’s hard to believe that there are so many families in need in apparently affluent Reading.

“While most of us eat too much and our children’s toy cupboards are bursting, there are children in Reading today that don’t have enough to eat or warm clothes to wear this winter, and for whom Santa delivering sackfuls of toys on Christmas morning is an impossible dream.”

For more information about Reading Family Aid and the work that it does to support disadvantaged families in our community, including how you can support Toys and Teens, visit readingfamilyaid.org