Finished your wrapping? Then spare a thought for the needy this Christmas

Hundreds of thousands of people in our country and abroad are helped by small charities that receive pitifully small donations

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The Independent Online

The parties are done, the dancing shoes tired, the voice weary. You have bought your presents, joined the hordes, survived the unpleasant wrestles with shoppers.

Parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, kids, friends and lovers will, hopefully, be delighted with what you give them. Lucky dogs will be, too – the ones getting top-brand clothes this Christmas (sales of hoodies, coats, tracksuits and designer jumpers for the canine market are up 35 per cent). All the wrapping is done. The tree is lit and decorated. Liquor cabinet is full after that trip to Lidl – damned exhausting but worth the trouble. Port and lobster at silly prices! Just the thing for bargain-seeking big spenders. Middle-class enthusiasts will have booked the skiing holiday to take away the late-winter blues. Life is wonderful for those who have.

Still a few more days to Christmas. What will you do? You could use this quiet, reflective time to do something for the hidden needy. Hundreds of thousands of people in our country are helped by small charities that don’t take out full-page adverts in newspapers, that receive pitifully small donations and few volunteers. At this time of the year, they could really do with us all chipping in. Now many of you are already offering up cash for the very worthy Independent appeal to help homeless veterans. For that, a very big thank you. This injustice was once barely recognised or seen. Now, more people understand and are stepping up.

But, you know, all of us can do a little more, spread (and feel) quiet, warm happiness. So here is a list to get your consciences stirring.

People know about food banks, but, because so many are now using them, supplies are short. Find your local one, buy not only imperishable food, but treats for children and toiletries. I took some provisions to a collection point and included toothpaste, soap, nice shampoo and shower gel. Some places are short of sanitary towels and tampons. (The Queen should make an unannounced visit to a food bank. She is, after all, the monarch of everyone who lives on these islands. But we know that won’t happen.)

 

Women for Refugee Women is an active and vital charity helping female asylum-seekers who are incarcerated in detention centres: 2,000 of them are held, some with their children. The Yarl’s Wood centre in Bedfordshire is managed by a private company and there have been allegations of maltreatment of inmates – many of them victims of war, rape and torture. The author and journalist Natasha Walter is co-founder of the charity.

The actress Romola Garai recently visited the women and was deeply moved by their plight. These inmates need more Britons to care about them. Get in touch with the charity and see what you can do. It is shocking that our television crews can go into the world’s most closed-off nations to film victims of war and terror but, to date, not one intrepid TV journalist has taken us into Yarl’s Wood. 

Then there is the Abortion Support Network, a tiny, brave little charity that offers women from Ireland and the Isle of Man access to safe and legal abortions. It is, to me, totally shocking that in these neighbouring lands women still don’t have the fundamental right to decide whether to carry on with a pregnancy. Some have died in hospital because doctors would not intervene when their lives were in danger; a number have committed suicide. American Christian fundamentalists now hound pregnant women in the UK and Ireland. The network badly needs cash and volunteers to help the increasing number of desperate women.

Medical Aid for Palestinians is trying to rebuild Gaza after it was subjected to prolonged bombing attacks by Israel this summer. The media moved on but the people are still surrounded by the rubble, their children weak and ill. The winter could kill some of the most vulnerable.

Jamal, for example, is only eight and has survived three big, violent confrontations. He misses his home, his toys, his old life. Politics and religious allegiances can’t matter, shouldn’t matter at this time. This charity is known for its honesty and diligence. The war in Syria, the Ebola crises and unending tragedies elsewhere have, understandably, pushed Gaza into a forgotten corner. MAP wants us to remember; please donate.

Finally, Kids Company, which is better known than those above, is seeking extra support.

The formidable Camila Batmanghelidjh set up the charity to help to restore severely damaged children; many of them have been in and out of care and never found an adult to trust and depend on. They want to throw a big Christmas party for 4,000 of these kids and young people – because, for them, it is the hardest day of all. Obviously, the funds have to go in now for this to happen.

The money or help you give won’t end the misery of those I have described. But every little really helps. And gives true meaning to Christmas. Perhaps it even offsets the overindulgence – that hoodie for the pooch, for example.

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