By Helen Voyce, Head of Retail, St Vincent de Paul Society
This year Christmas will feel different. After a year of Covid anxiety, we need to keep everyone safe as we spend time with our loved ones. We should also spend wisely at the end of a year which has seen such hardship for so many, and we need to be kind to ourselves and remain optimistic that there is hope for the future.
If you believe what you see in television adverts, online and on social media, we should cook like Gordon Ramsey, decorate our houses like Kirstie Allsopp and adorn ourselves in ball gowns and dinner suits while enveloped in the scent of opulent perfume. In reality, this embellishment of the festive season is not necessary to have a merry Christmas, and this year no one should feel the need to conform.
While we all enjoy Christmas in our own way, we can all share kindness with others, demonstrating love in the act of giving. So here are some top tips that might inspire you.
Festive bargain hunting
Charity shopping for a Christmas present has so many benefits. You can find something unique, which is far less expensive than it would be on the high street. It’s an eco-friendly shopping experience and doesn’t exacerbate the ‘throwaway society’. But best of all, your purchase will also benefit someone who needs support.
Shopping at a charity shop, such as our St Vincent’s Shops, means you, the consumer, are happy because you can bag a bargain and, in the process, help to change someone’s life for the better. The environment also has less stress placed on it, and the recipient of your gift gets to open a carefully chosen present which shows you care.
While shopping for a bargain is a great way of supporting our shops, donating an item for sale is also important. We all have items we no longer use, and which still have service inherent in them, so please don’t throw them away, donate them to your local St Vincent’s Shop where they will find a new lease of life and benefit someone in your community. The funds raised will go towards helping others.
Charity shopping is now online
The double blows of lockdowns 1.0 and 2.0 and the ‘firebreak’ in Wales have hit charity shops hard, but at the SVP our determined staff and volunteers have successfully launched our eBay shop. You can now enjoy all the benefits of St Vincent’s Shops from the comfort of your favourite armchair. You can snap up that ornate perfume bottle, acquire a good read, snaffle the perfect game to play with the children, or hit the ‘buy’ button on a warm coat to keep the winter chills at bay, and all delivered to your door.
Our preloved items are treated in accordance with Covid-19 government guidelines, so you can be assured that when you open your eBay bargain, it will have been quarantined, sanitised and carefully packaged just for you.
Gift a donation
Gifting comes in a variety of guises, from the traditional handing over of a wrapped present, to a virtual voucher, and even a donation in your recipient’s name. The SVP offers a number of ‘alternative Christmas gifts’, which allow people to show their generosity by giving a donation in the name of a loved one or a friend. There is a choice of eight seasonal alternative gifts, and each comes with a certificate to hand to your loved one or friend on the big day, along with the knowledge their gift will change someone’s life for the better.
The Gift of Memories (£150) supports the SVP children’s summer camps, providing disadvantaged young people the opportunity to escape from their worries, while the £80 Gift of Connection helps alleviate digital poverty for people living in isolation.
Giving the £30 Gift of Comfort helps a person or family turn their unfurnished accommodation into a home with some household basics. The £25 Gift of Relief supports a family in need of food and other essential items, and a £10 Gift of Friendship helps to fund the SVP’s befriending work. The £16 Gift of Warmth allows SVP members to distribute four Vinnie Packs to rough sleepers.
For £20 you can give the Gift of Health, which helps to fund the SVP’s medical facilities in South Sudan, while the £15 Gift of Education helps to educate a primary school child in India for a year.
Make a child’s Christmas
It’s a sad fact that thousands of children will wake up on Christmas morning with no present waiting for them under the twinkling lights of a brightly decorated tree. The disappointment and sense of being different to other children is compounded by the overwhelming sense of failure and pressure felt by those who love them. We can all make a difference to try and change that by donating a new toy, book or game to your local St Vincent’s support centre where your generous donation will make a family’s Christmas a happier time.
As we grow older, Christmas should be a time we look back upon with fondness, memories of companionship and thankfulness. We can help to create those warm reminiscences for our younger generation, so please remember young people who, through no fault of their own, may have nothing to make them smile at this special time of year.
Give the gift of time
One commodity most of us can give is time. It doesn’t matter if you only have an hour to spare, or you can commit to a few days, time is the most precious gift you can give during the festive season. Volunteering opportunities abound during the year with St Vincent’s whether in our shops or support centres. Why not contact your local St Vincent’s and see how you can best give the gift of your time this Christmas?
Say something kind
Loneliness is a word which has taken on added significance this year. The pandemic has cruelly cut off our support networks, friends and families, leaving some of the most vulnerable members of our communities alone. That cannot be allowed to happen in a world where communication is ubiquitous.
We can all help, we just need to keep talking! Be a good neighbour by telephoning, emailing, pinging a message on social media or by sending that old fashioned, but most welcome thing, a letter or a Christmas card. A kind word costs nothing, but demonstrates in the most powerful way that you care. It makes the world of difference, so please fight loneliness this Christmas and throughout the year.
Make a difference to your community
We all live in communities. They are all different, made up of diverse individuals, but we all share a common desire; to be part of something bigger. Communities are living, breathing things. They need to be nourished, encouraged and organised. A successful community is a supportive, generous entity, where people can thrive and grow. We all need to contribute to our communities, and that also means supporting those members who may be in need of help.
You can play a vital role in your community by volunteering at your local St Vincent’s Shop where you will be with like-minded people who care passionately about the meaning of ‘community’. Becoming a volunteer means you will become part of the St Vincent’s family and have the support of an organisation with almost 200 years of experience. You will be part of something much bigger, a wider community of care and kindness while you give something back to your community.
Say a prayer
2020 has been one of the most challenging years in recent memory, and we have all learned new ways of coping with the changes the pandemic has wrought on society. Our faith has been a constant in a world which is changing fast. Please say a prayer for those around you, and for people who are suffering.
Make time for yourself
The pandemic has touched all our lives. Its negative impact has produced anxiety, anger, guilt and a whole host of other emotions. Our mental health feels like it’s under constant attack, so it’s important to stop and take a moment for ourselves. We deserve to make time for ourselves and enjoy something which makes us smile. You shouldn’t feel guilty for replenishing and maintaining your well-being.
Why not make time for a bit of retail therapy at a St Vincent’s Shop? A good browse and a chat with our friendly staff and volunteers are always good for the soul. You might also unearth a bargain!
Make Christmas part of your life
This Christmas will be different, but after the tide of negative impacts of the pandemic, perhaps we should embrace the optimism of kindness, giving and community during the festive season.
For more information or to donate to the SVP’s Rise to the Challenge campaign, go to www.svp.org.uk/rise, @SVPEnglandWales (#SVPRiseChallenge) or telephone 020 7703 3030.