MORE than 3,000 vulnerable children will be able to open their very own present on Christmas morning this year thanks to the generous work of Reading's Toys & Teens appeal.

The cost of living crisis has proved a challenge for the campaign this year resulting in the highest ever number of children registered for donated toys, while fewer donations made by cash-strapped residents despite the generosity of many.

The appeal, run by Reading Family Aid and backed by the Reading Chronicle, seeks to find presents for children who would otherwise not receive any on Christmas Day.

Around 3,000 kids in Reading have found themselves in need this year - 20 per cent more than last year.

“The big increase in the number of children I think is down mainly to the cost of living crisis,” said Laura Windisch, Toys and Teens project manager.

“So many people are feeling the pinch, we know that food bank use has gone up and up, and if people are using food banks and are not able to pay their energy bills, presents for their children have to be lower down on the list.”

Reading Chronicle:

“Nobody needs Christmas presents in the same way that they need food or they need to heat their houses, but imagine being that child or the parent of that child who went back to school after Christmas and was asked ‘what did you get?’ ‘I got nothing.’”

This time 20 years ago, only 500 children had registered for a present from the Toys and Teens Appeal.

“Sadly, we haven’t had anywhere near the number of donated toys that we have had in previous years.

“One of the reasons is the cost of living crisis, and the other is that we haven’t been very active in this sphere for two years because of Covid.

Reading Chronicle:

“We have been collecting money rather than toys for two years, so it is possible we have fallen a bit out of the consciousness of the town, and people haven’t been bringing toys to us in anywhere near the quantity that we have had before,” Laura added.

The shortfall has been somewhat alleviated by donations made by Tesco, The John Sykes Foundation and The Giving Tree, which handed over £1,000, £1,000 and £1,500 respectively.

Nonetheless, the generous public have still donated a huge amount of presents, with dozens of volunteers packing them into bags to be taken to charities and schools.

Reading Chronicle: Deputy Mayor Debs Edwards, and Laura Windisch, Toys and Teens project manager, both centre front, are joined by volunteers to pack Christmas presents for childrenDeputy Mayor Debs Edwards, and Laura Windisch, Toys and Teens project manager, both centre front, are joined by volunteers to pack Christmas presents for children (Image: NQ)

Lauren O’Neill, 30, from Reading, has been volunteering for six years in a row.

She said: “I always think this day is one of the most emotional days. It makes me sad because of how much it means to everybody else.

“It’s been full on, my feet are sore, my head is going to hurt tonight and then I’ll do it all again tomorrow.

Lauren continued: “I recently became a mum and I think it is even more important this year to see how much we can give back and how much charities and other organisations need these donations.”

Thanks to the Toys & Teens Appeal 2022, gifts have now been donated to 3001 children who would have otherwise gone without on Christmas day this year.

Sarchana Bakshr, from Maidenhead, who has volunteered for four years, agreed.

Reading Chronicle: Volunteers Lauren O’Neill (left) and Sarchana BakshrVolunteers Lauren O’Neill (left) and Sarchana Bakshr (Image: NQ)

“I am a parent so I know how important it is.”

She said: “People need to be more generous, especially now when more children need these things, so those of us who can, should.”