Hundreds of children given warm clothes as cost rises bite
published on 31 Aug 2022
More than 300 children were provided with coats and quality shoes in time for the new school term as part of Gateshead Salvation Army’s Every Child Warm scheme.
Now in its sixth year, the Coats and Shoes initiative provides coats, shoes and items such as backpacks and pencil cases to children who would otherwise go without.
The Gateshead team, led by Corps officer Lt Tony Kakande and Community Manager Ann Humes, hosted a three-day event at the end of August, inviting families from across the borough who may struggle financially. They focus on making the experience enjoyable for the youngsters, providing a ‘personal shopper’ to help them pick out items.
It is supported by The Salvation Army’s Philanthropy department and Salvation Army Trading Company Limited (SATCoL), who provide coats and shoes donated to clothing banks across the UK, as well as new items from corporate partners.
Ann said: “Every Child Warm is based on the idea that coats and shoes are the most expensive item that a parent has to buy. They may use a school uniform swap scheme, but finding the money for those items can be harder for parents with limited budgets. In Gateshead, where there are huge health inequalities due to poverty, we want to help make sure children are clothed properly for the winter.
“Over three days, we invite families into the Corps and aim to make it a really nice experience for them. The parents arrive at a planned time and are met by a personal shopper, who takes them and the children round. Children do know they are getting handouts, but it is nice for them to get something they have been able to choose. We also know if a child feels marginalised or stigmatised, they like to go back to school with something new.
“Thanks to some money provided by The Salvation Army’s Philanthropy team, this year we have some backpacks and pencil cases which we’re filling with pens and pencils. The charity Borderline Books has also provided 350 books.”
Ann expects they will provide for upwards of 300 children from pre-school age to 18, who are referred by local schools, Gateshead Food Bank, a local Asylum and Refugee charity, their own Corps families and Roma Fellowship, which is part of Gateshead Corps and led by two Salvation Army soldiers.
Ann continued: “For the parents receiving the items, it’s a huge sigh of relief for them, it gives them a bit of dignity, but the best feedback we get is from the children, when you see them dancing in front of the mirror and see their faces, hearing them go ‘I love this’, that’s the best feeling.
“We put good quality items out, all the coats are washed, the shoes are polished, recently by our seniors group who had a great time competing against each other to shine them! There are always some extra bits and pieces there too, which we keep as a surprise. A child of 12 to 13 is much more aware of why they are receiving something, but if they come away with something like a nice brand new backpack, it makes the experience more comfortable.
“A small proportion of our funds will be put aside for exceptions. We did have got a boy who takes a size 11 shoes and at that age it’s important they have something fashionable to wear, so we used the fund for that.”
The event ran smoothly thanks to volunteers, many are or were asylum seekers who came to The Salvation Army for help and support and want to give something back. As there are 17 different nationalities, they help interpret for families coming to select items. There were also volunteers from Virgin Media.
With the Corps sitting within the 10 per cent most deprived boroughs in the UK, the cost of living crisis is having a great impact on the families they support.
As well as offering lunches and snacks to help alleviate holiday hunger, with the help of the Philanthropy team, the Corps was able to pay towards buses and taxis for people coming to Every Child Warm.
Ann continued: “Gateshead is a very welcoming place and we have a high proportion of asylum seekers who come to our Corps for our community services as well as to worship. They have a very limited income and, as many other people are, are struggling even more as the cost of living rises.
“It’s all well and good us saying ‘come on this day’, but where we live bus fares are extremely expensive, so a lot of the funding we use on buses and taxi fares, as often a taxi is cheaper than the bus. We want the whole family to come and for the children to be part of that, so it is key that we help with travel costs for those who need it.”
A lot of the coats are collected or donated throughout the year and stored, while SATCoL provides coats, shoes and pre-loved school uniforms as well as 500 blazers this year thanks to a huge donation they received.
Ann added: “It’s really made a difference working with SATCoL. Zoe Cleaver is brilliant and organised the shoe delivery well ahead of time. There are brand new blazers too. Our plan is to offer any that are left over to the organisations we work with throughout the year in Gateshead. We will also take them to some of our schools because prices for these items are just going to go up and up.
“Having Philanthropy come on board with a donation has allowed us to buy more pencil cases and backpacks as well as fund the travel costs and the packed lunches. It’s been brilliant working together as a church and charity to help people who need it.”
Kirk Bradley, SATCoL’s Head of Corporate Partnerships, said “Thanks to these generous donations to our clothing banks, we are able to provide families with warm clothes as the cost of living bites.
“Our clothing collection schemes provide opportunities to reuse and repurpose pre-loved items. By people donating to our clothing banks, they are helping to raise vital funds for charity and supporting the great work being done by The Salvation Army throughout the UK.”