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Newham Recorder 50: Christmas Toy Appeal co-founder Kevin Jenkins on four decades of helping the borough’s youngsters

PUBLISHED: 15:00 13 June 2018

Kevin Jenkins OBE is the founder of the Christmas Toy Appeal. Picture: Kevin Jenkins

Kevin Jenkins OBE is the founder of the Christmas Toy Appeal. Picture: Kevin Jenkins

Kevin Jenkins

The Newham Recorder and Community Links Christmas Toy Appeal, now in its fifth decade, has been running almost as long as the newspaper itself. Its co-founder, Kevin Jenkins OBE, reflects on 40 years of helping the borough’s disadvantaged youngsters.

Volunteers at work at the Toy Appeal warehouse. Warehouse owner John Murphy with Paula Blake from Community LinksVolunteers at work at the Toy Appeal warehouse. Warehouse owner John Murphy with Paula Blake from Community Links

When Community Links first started to work with Newham children 41 years ago we soon became very aware of not only the deep levels of poverty that so many families were living in every day, but also the deep resilience that the children had in making the best of their situations.

It was a discussion with one mother that spawned the Christmas Toy Appeal. She said she had told her children Father Christmas had died, because there was just no way that she could stretch her income from benefits to buy even one gift for each her five children.

A week later and very nervous, I met with the Recorder’s first editor, Tom Duncan, to suggest we start up the Appeal. He agreed. Tom introduced me to a then junior reporter, Colin Grainger, who would work on the Appeal with me. Our first Toy Appeal was launched in November 1977 by David Essex, who went on to become a regular supporter.

That year, just over 400 new gifts were donated to about 100 children, who woke up on Christmas morning to a sack bursting with presents.

Former editor Colin Grainger with his children James and Angela and Recorder staff and youngsters in a 1987 swimFormer editor Colin Grainger with his children James and Angela and Recorder staff and youngsters in a 1987 swim

Now four decades and 40 Appeals on, the project continues to grow and now raises thousands of gifts each year, but the founding ethos remains the same: to make sure no child’s personal circumstances mean that their Christmas stockings go empty.

I know that so many of the 100,000-plus children who have benefited over the last 40 years have felt so happy, more confident and much better placed to overcome their own personal difficulties as a result of the help they have received, because they have told me so, 10, 20 or 30 years on and often when they are now donating toys to the Appeal themselves.

I truly hope that one year there will no longer be a need for the Christmas Toy Appeal, but until then, I know that it will continue to make a difference each year for the most vulnerable children in our community.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the Appeal over the past 40 years – please be proud of the difference you have helped to make.

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