The nights are turning darker and colder, which can only mean one thing; like it or not, the festive season is upon us. Some people I know have already completed their Christmas shopping. But if you move away from the shopping, this time is a period of reflection and empathy. Covid still lingers, despite losing some of its effect on us compared to last year. This year will be a little different.
We still remember what it was like; not seeing family or braving the cold to do a drive-by instead of going inside. It brought humility to us all. That should still be the case this year.
Now, issues requiring empathy are still relevant.
Homelessness is one of them. According to official government statistics, “11,580 single households were assessed as rough sleeping at the time of the approach (2020-2021), up 39.4% from 2019-20.” Covid and unemployment caused a lot of that, but it still isn’t a happy statistic. We have all walked past a homeless person and not glanced at them. They feel unseen and lonely, which only adds to their distress. Their unhappiness is also added to by societies anti-homelessness policies; such as limiting covered bus shelters and benches, as well as restaurant policies being to throw out leftovers rather than giving them away.
Empathy goes a long way, and you can help in small doses. If you don’t feel comfortable giving small change physically, gift them with food, drinks, blankets and resources. There have been plenty of stories of barbers giving out free haircuts or vets giving out free check-ups for homeless pets.
NE Offers and LNER are supporting the charity North East Homeless to put on a Christmas Eve lunch for the homeless in Central Station. You can indirectly help by donating £5 to the charity to provide a lunch for a vulnerable or homeless person, which may be the only gift they get this year.
Should the fundraising total more than they need on the day, the charity will provide the below for service users this winter: a pair of thermal socks and gloves, a toiletry pack, a mental health chat either by phone call or face to face, a food parcel, re-heatable meals made in the Hub, and a travel pass for someone who needs support or access to training/work experience. When asked to comment on their event, NEH said, “We started the Christmas Eve meal about four years ago. I wanted somewhere iconic but covered over. So I thought of Central Station. LNER have been brilliant in supporting us. Christmas is about looking after each other, and that’s what NEH is all about. Loneliness is massive at Christmas time, hence why you don’t have to be homeless to come to our meal.”
The link to donate for those viewing this article online is here. Or, if you’re reading from the magazine Google North East Homeless Christmas Meal and click NE Offers to donate.
Another charity helping the vulnerable is Feeding Families North East, which creates food parcels for those in need. You can donate by adding to their food banks or just fundraising for them in general. Recently, they shared the story of a young girl in Blyth who put up posters to support the charity and asked for food donations. This charity puts out an average of 1,000 food boxes every month. That figure alone shows how many vulnerable people rely on them. And with the increasing food and fuel prices, isn’t that relatable?
In addition, Tyne Valley Express have partnered with a local photographer to produce a 2022 calendar. All of the proceeds will go to Feeding Families. Featuring beautiful seasonal images from Derwent and Tyne Valley, it’s only £9.99 plus delivery.
Other issues have been in the media spotlight these last few months as well.
Conversations on animal welfare and kidnappings were rampant during the pandemic. Charities like Newcastle Dog and Cat Shelter had to adapt to the times. Soon their Christmas campaigns will be released, which will centre, as they do every year, on the fact that a pet isn’t just for Christmas. They are, in fact, a lifelong family member. Adoptions skyrocket during the Christmas period, but they are soon handed back during the new year. They’ve also noticed a decrease in the number of cats being adopted compared to the dogs. New dogs, cats, and even a goat are added to their website every week. So, if you think you can give one of them a loving home, check out their website.
Another major issue, kicked off by the Sarah Everard case and the recent media backlash on the subject, is women’s safety. A new charity that has popped up in Newcastle is Women’s Street Watch NCL. Created in September, they have amassed 6K likes on Facebook and thousands of people want to volunteer for the charity. They want to patrol and create safe spaces for women in the North East and are looking for a suitable function rooms to hold training sessions. They promote helpful messages and highlight those lives lost tragically by violence.
Christmas is a time to reflect, and charities rely on that for their promotion and donations. I want to promote them now so that if you choose to contribute, you can prepare with plenty of time to spare.
If you choose to help globally, there are plenty of charities to pick. Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas allows you to create shoebox hampers for refugees and vulnerable families in Africa. There are also local charities, which have popped up to support Afghanistan refugees.
But the concept of keeping things local has stayed with us well throughout the pandemic.
Four local charities feature in this article, centred on topics I care about, but there are tonnes more around the Tyne Valley and North East area. Giving a little goes a long way for those in need. Stop in on your local church or charity, volunteer for a weekend or hand out fliers. Every little bit helps.
The social media profiles and websites of the charities I have mentioned are below:
NEH North East Homeless: @Northeasthomeless, www.northeasthomeless.org.uk/
Feeding Families: @UKfeedingfamilies, www.feedingfamilies.org.uk/
Newcastle Dog and Cat Shelter: @newcastledogandcatshelter, https://www.dogandcatshelter.com/
Women’s Street Watch NCL: @WSWNCL