13 December 2016 - 9:42am
As Edinburgh begins to wind down for Christmas, the Salvation Army and its volunteers are supporting thousands of vulnerable and isolated people.
Through its present appeal, emergency food provisions, Christmas Day lunches, residential support for older people and people experiencing homelessness, and music and carolling events, the organisation aims to spread as much festive cheer to those in need.
Leaders of The Salvation Army’s community churches in Gorgie, Granton and the city centre are busy encouraging people to add an extra toy to their shopping list so that every Christmas tree can have a surprise underneath it. The Christmas Present Appeal is this year expected to benefit more than 500 young people in Edinburgh alone.
Over 300 fresh food hampers, put together from donations and the proceeds of carolling, will also be distributed to families and people referred by local social workers and agencies.
The Salvation Army in Edinburgh has this week paid tribute to the volunteers who have been giving up their free time to help the most vulnerable people in society.
Anne Pymm is a volunteer at the charity's Gorgie community church. She began volunteering with the Salvation Army to "give something back" for the support she received with her disabled son Craig.
Speaking as she helped pack presents for the Christmas Appeal, Anne said: "The Salvation Army helped a lot with my son Craig. When I retired I wanted to give something back so I started volunteering every Wednesday with the food bank here."
Community co-ordinator Beverley Johnston (left) and Majors Kathy and Betteridge
Scott Paterson volunteered as part of an initiative called Day to Make a Difference, which sees his employer Lloyds allow staff the chance to spend a day volunteering for a local charity. Scott said he chose the Salvation Army because of the need the charity responds to.
He said: "This is a great cause and you feel like you are making a difference. We've been packing food parcels non-stop so it shows that there is a need."
Major David Betteridge leads The Salvation Army’s Edinburgh Gorgie community church and said: “This year we are expecting to give out gifts to over 500 children and distribute around 300 food hampers to families.
"It's only possible though with the support from volunteers. We can't thank them enough so we want them to know that they are making a difference to so many people's lives at Christmas, especially young people.
“We also rely on the support of the public and each year we are amazed at the generosity of people towards the Salvation Army. Without that support we would not be able to do what we do.
“What I would say to people is that if you have children, grandchildren, or children you support, think of what they might like in their Christmas stocking and consider buying an extra present and donating it.
“Once the Christmas Present Appeal is over we’ll continue to offer emergency food parcels to those who need it and we’ll start preparing for our Christmas Day lunch.
“A lot of people are lonely and Christmas Day accentuates the fact they’re on their own. We just wanted to provide an opportunity for people to be together to share a Christmas Day and not be isolated. Even many of our volunteers on Christmas Day are lonely people but are happy to be working and spending time with other people.”
Here’s what the Salvation Army has going on in Edinburgh in the run up to Christmas:
Christmas Present Appeal
With the public’s support, The Salvation Army is aiming to ensure no child goes without a gift on Christmas morning. The appeal is already well underway locally, with over 500 children expected to benefit this year in Edinburgh alone.
Gifts can be dropped off at any Salvation Army church, shop or centre and can be for newborns and children up to 16 years of age.
The main Christmas Present Appeal events for wrapping and distributing gifts to families will take place on the following dates:
· December 12-13 – Edinburgh Gorgie community church. Volunteers will be working around the clock to meet the rising need for gifts and fresh food hampers for families affected by extreme poverty. Around 600 toys will be wrapped and 300 food hampers made up. Presents will also be wrapped and sent to inmates at Edinburgh Prison. The foodbank will continue to operate separately from the gifts and food hampers being distributed.
· December 13-15 – Edinburgh City Centre community church. With the support from residents from the Salvation Army’s Pleasance Lifehouse for homeless people, there will be wrapping of gifts for over 200 children and food for families in need. Gifts will also be sent to the Pleasance Lifehouse and handed to residents on Christmas Day. There will also be gifts made up for residents who have children but cannot afford to give them a gift. The community church is looking for more donations of gifts to keep up with demand from local people in need.
Emergency food provisions
All Salvation Army community churches in Edinburgh will be providing fresh food hampers to enable people to enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner. These hampers will include enough fresh food for several meals as well as selection boxes and mince pies to enable people to enjoy a few festive treats. These will be distributed to families alongside gifts for children.
Christmas is a difficult time for many residents of the Salvation Army’s lifehouses (residential centres for people experiencing homelessness). Relationship breakdowns and other issues often mean many residents do not see friends and families on Christmas Day. Salvation Army staff will ensure all residents have a gift, Christmas dinner and someone to talk to. Salvation Army community churches make donations of toiletries and gifts to lifehouses, and there will be visits from Salvation Army bands throughout December.
Drop-ins and outreach work
The Salvation Army will be giving support at drop-in services around the country to people who are experiencing homelessness. Officers and volunteers will also being going out into their communities to offer practical support to vulnerable people through the following initiatives:
· Edinburgh Street Project – The Salvation Army operates a support van in Leith two nights a week as a place for sex workers to receive practical and spiritual support. The van is run in conjunction with NHS Lothian and the charity Streetwork with the aim of monitoring the health and circumstances of women working in the sex industry. Outreach officer Major Kathy Betteridge will be helping prepare and distribute Christmas boxes filled with toiletries and other gifts for the women.
· Niddry Street drop-in – A Christmas lunch will be provided for service user on December 13 and there will be music by a Salvation Army band.
Christmas Day lunches
Many Salvation Army community churches and centres will be hosting Christmas Day lunches for people who would otherwise spend the festive season alone. These include:
· Edinburgh Gorgie – Officers and volunteers will be making and serving dinner to around 40 vulnerable people. A small service will be followed by a three-course lunch for people who would otherwise spend the festive season alone.
· The Pleasance – Lunch, as well as party games will be provided for residents. There will also be a pre-Christmas buffet and party for residents December 15. All residents will receive a gift on Christmas morning as well, supplied by Edinburgh City community church.
· Eagle Lodge and Davidson care homes – Christmas Day dinners will be provided to all residents along with a gift from Santa.
Music and carolling events
The sound of the Salvation Army is synonymous with Christmas and musicians will be spreading the joy of Christmas at the following events:
· December 18 – Carols with the Salvation Army at Manfield Traquair. The Salvation Army’s Edinburgh Gorgie band will be performing along with special guests as part of a night of carolling.
· December 23 – Edinburgh City community church. A community carol concert will be held for the community and members of the public.
· December 24 – Edinburgh Granton community church. There will be a carols by candlelight service for the community.
· Every Wednesday and Friday – Princes Street (opposite Christmas market). A Salvation Army band will be performing from 11am-1pm.
Iain Wilson, manager of the Pleasance Lifehouse, said: “At all times of the year, but particularly at Christmas, we see a real need in Edinburgh.
“At the Pleasance, we work closely with our community churches and shops to help some of the most vulnerable people in society. All the projects work successfully together to help people break the cycle of homelessness and hopelessness.
“This year our centre will be doing everything it can to give residents as close to a normal Christmas as possible. For many residents this time of year can be extremely difficult as they may have experienced a relationship breakdown.
“The support staff enjoy coming to work on Christmas Day because we can help give people a nice Christmas and offer them support if and when they need it.
“On Christmas morning, our Christmas Elves will go around the building and drop off a present to each of the residents. These are gifts donated by our community churches and often people have made things especially for the residents. We have women from a place near the borders who send up thermal vests, gloves and hats every year. Little thoughts like that makes a huge difference in people’s lives.”
Ian Bell, manager of Eagle Lodge Care Home, said: “We go over the top at Christmas but it brings so much joy to our residents, who absolutely love it. We have pantomimes and performances from local schoolchildren.
“On Christmas Eve we have a service where we sing carols and have a bit of fun. Then on Christmas Day, Santa comes around delivering gifts. After that we have a party and a meal.”