Young volunteers have been pitching in to help other families in need across Australia. (ABC Illawarra: Gavin Coote)
Charities around Australia have seen a jump in demand for donated toys and gifts over the Christmas period, with a rise in the number of middle-income families feeling the pinch.
Unicorns, plastic dump trucks, picture books and puppets are not perhaps what springs to mind when it comes to essential supplies at a relief centre.
But for the hundreds of thousands of families turning to charities like the Salvation Army for support this Christmas, it is the first thing they are looking for.
Major Bruce Harmer of the Salvation Army said more than half a million toys and gifts had been donated this festive season.
Wollongong mother Aime McGuinness is among those who have sought donated toys this Christmas. (ABC Illawarra: Gavin Coote)
“Lots of people at this time of year really suffer from financial anxiety and many are feeling the stress of not being able to make ends meet,” Major Harmer said.
At the organisation’s relief centre in Wollongong, south of Sydney, volunteers had been working in overdrive in recent weeks, collecting toys from businesses, schools and community members.
The gifts are sorted into categories and age groups, and recipients are then allowed to ‘shop’ for presents for their own child.
Mother-of-three Aime McGuiness, whose husband died last year, said she had been reluctant to reach out for help.
“I don’t come for help during the year at all, but that little bit at Christmas makes a big difference and takes that little bit of burden off my shoulders,” Ms McGuiness said.
“I let my guard down at Christmas time because it is the hardest, you’ve got bills, and just this little bit of extra help makes a major difference in my life.”
At Wollongong alone, more than a thousand local families had sought gift and toy hampers.
Working mums, dads among relief recipients
Major Robert Sneller, who has been with the Salvation Army for 46 years, said he was staggered by the number of middle-class families seeking relief.
Major Robert Sneller (left) says he has seen a rise in the number of middle-class families seeking relief. (ABC Illawarra: Gavin Coote)
“Both husband and wife are working very hard, and yet they’re still finding it difficult to pay their bills, especially electricity, gas, water rates,” he said.
“More and more people in that middle class are finding it very difficult to fund those essential things in life.”
Unlike many volunteer-run organisations, plenty of young people have stepped in to help, with has meant there is no shortage of expertise in the toy department.
Fifteen-year-old volunteer Chloe Inglis said she wanted to give other children the opportunity to experience a “normal” Christmas.
“I like to see the kids and their joy, I realise how lucky I am and how I took for granted all these gifts that I get for Christmas,” Chloe said.
There has been plenty of expertise in the toy department, with many young volunteers like Chloe (right) pitching in. (ABC Illawarra: Gavin Coote)
Any leftover toys will be shipped out to rural Australia and distributed to families in need in the new year.
Social interaction also in high demand
It is not just the toys and relief hampers that families have been flocking to charity centres for.
Research by Roy Morgan this month found two million Australians experienced social isolation last Christmas, with depression and anxiety of even greater concern.
Aime McGuiness said the promise of a friendly face and conversation made a rough time of year that little bit more comfortable.
“I went to a shop yesterday and there was no hello, there’s no feeling, it’s just take your money and off you go, that’s it, but here you feel comfortable,” she said.
“You can be yourself and you don’t have to be someone that you’re not. They take you for who you are.”