A MAN who runs Britain's cheapest "toy shop" says that they give away thousands of brand new toys for free.
Wood Street Mission in Manchester have distributed around 14,000 toys to around 4,000 children this December at no cost.
The charity, based on Wood Street and opposite the city’s Magistrates’ Courts, has been fighting child poverty since 1869.
Parents referred to Wood Street Mission can come to the charity, which is converted into a "toy shop".
They select three gifts for each tot — one high-value, one mid-range, and one stocking filler — plus a selection box and wrapping paper.
Des Lynch, CEO, has been working at the mission for roughly 30 years now. “It’s all brand new toys here,” he says, surveying the ‘mountains’ of gifts.
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“There are 64,500 children in poverty in Manchester and Salford alone.
“The idea is that we make Christmas a special time for as many kids as we can. Kids can go back to school after the holiday and talk about what they got rather than stay quiet.
“One of our major supporters is a guy who got his first Christmas toy from us when he was six. Now he is 70-odd.”
It’s a busy day at the mission. Toys are being ferried up and down a conveyer belt, to be taken from the basement storage room to the ground-floor "shop".
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Shelves are being replenished so there’s plenty of choice, says Florence Kane, the brains behind the operation.
Florence said: "Each child will get a green, yellow, and red toy so when we are restocking we are making sure there’s enough variety for each stocker.
“We want to make sure they have got choice.
“We really want them to feel like they are choosing toys their kids will love. That can take away the anxiety about it. It might be the first time they are in this situation.”
Florence and colleagues are busier than normal this year, though.
Sky Blacher, a project worker downstairs, says that’s because "people have been more generous" than in previous years, as there’s a desire to help those in need get through the cost-of-living crisis — something she describes as "really nice".
The economic implosion that the UK is facing, as is so often the case, is felt hardest by those with the narrowest shoulders.
Des continues: "What’s happening now is that charities like us do not just deal with people on benefits.
"The number of people we see who are working poor [is going up].
“We are now seeing more in that category getting dragged into the poverty trap. That’s where they live in poverty even if you are working.
"You can be the best budgeter in the world, but if you do not know what you are earning — for example if you’re on a zero hours contract — you’re trapped.”
Des is a realist, and recognises that the toys they provide will not solve a family’s financial woes. But for him, there’s another element to it.
“The feeling from parents is relief,” he adds. “Relief that they do not have to go without toys for their children on Christmas Day.”
It’s a gargantuan task for the 16-strong team at the charity to take on, so they are aided by volunteers from the corporate sector.
Nikki O’Sullivan, the bank’s Chief of Staff said: “We’ve supported Wood Street Mission for 17 years.
“Our company offers staff three days of volunteering for each employee every year. There’s 15 of us here today. We are doing this over the next three weeks — there’s three days this week and three days next week.”
Each volunteering day is marched by a donation from the bank too, so it’s a win-win for the Mission.
However, the scale of the child poverty problem in Manchester and Salford, means they run other projects too.
There’s ‘Family Basics’, ‘Books Forever’, ‘Childhood Experiences’, and ‘Smart Start’ — where they provide school uniforms for needy children.
As gratifying as it is for Des to see parents and loved ones have something to give their youngsters on Christmas Day, or go back to school looking smart, or discover a love of reading, or just have the basic tools to look after a toddler — he’s still adamant that he shouldn’t have a job.
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He added: “After 153 years, we are still dealing with child poverty in this country.
“If you look at it, we have had a lot of governments. There’s been a number of governments who did exacerbate child poverty. But the reality is that after 153 years child poverty is still here. We should not be in existence.”
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