Santa Stork 2020 – wrapped in community kindness

SantaStork2020 blog (10)

Gifts distributed

(Includes late requests)
3,631 children
1,537 parents/carers
5,168 gifts in total
2,116 families helped
£82,000 estimated value of gifts

2020 has certainly been a year to remember, and the consequences have been far reaching in our community. We knew the demand for our Christmas campaign would be greater due to COVID-19, we factored this into our planning by upscaling our model, but nothing could have prepared us for the realisation of how many more families would need our support this Christmas.

It has been heart-breaking to hear the stories of families so worried about Christmas, but whilst is it important to highlight the impacts of COVID in our area, this story must also reflect the incredible wave of care and kindness that we have seen in response. To be part of this extreme show of compassion, and see the whole community coming together, has been nothing short of amazing.

This Santa Stork story is one to be shouted from the rooftops, thank you for being a part of it…

Let’s start at the very beginning

Back in September the planning began for our 7th Santa Stork campaign. We knew our operations would need to factor in working within a COVID-safe environment, which included minimising contact risk and having the space to work in a socially distanced way. In addition to this, there was much uncertainty as to what would/wouldn’t be allowed in the lead up to Christmas. One thing we did know is that our usual Giving Day – where the majority of gifts are wrapped and distributed one day in December – would not be able to go ahead.

As well as the logistical challenges of the current climate, more importantly, we knew (after surveying our referral partners) that 50% were expecting to refer more families to us this Santa Stork. We had an unbelievable challenge on our hands – but we knew Team Stork were up to it!

Supporting local

Whenever we can, we love supporting local and felt that Santa Stork presented itself with an opportunity to do just that. In previous Santa Storks we’ve been able to accept physical gift donations, but this year it would be hard to justify with quarantining of items and restrictions on travel. We had also relied heavily on Amazon to be our main toy supplier; our supporters would buy gifts which had been uploaded by us to our designated wish list, which would then be delivered directly to us. A convenient solution, but we felt we could and should do better.

Back to the drawing board – we asked ourselves the question: “What elements of this process can we run locally/inhouse?”. We approached Toy Barnhaus – a Surrey and Sussex chain of seven stores – to be our main supplier of children’s toys.

 

We would be supporting a local business at a time when the high street was being hit hard. We were assigned an account manager who would work closely with us to advise on popular toy choices, manage stock and deliveries. Toy Barnhaus also offered to price match with other high street stores with an additional 10% discount. And if we were to reach the point of worst-case scenario – where we couldn’t deliver the gifts to the families due to travel restrictions – we would rely on sending Toy Barnhaus vouchers. Fortunately, that didn’t happen but we felt reassured having a contingency plan. This partnership has proven to be a match made in heaven – Santa Stork would get the care and attention needed, and it was obvious that our mission mattered to Toy Barnhaus.

Santa’s Shop

We used our insight from previous campaigns and Toy Barnhaus’ expert knowledge to select 75 popular gift options, which covered all ages (ages 0-18) and main interests. These were the gifts which would be presented in a catalogue to the referral partners, who would in turn be encouraged to work with their supported families to choose a gift for each of the children, like the family in this example. We knew it could be the only gift they’d receive, so it was important to get it right!

Now all we needed was the technology to enable our supporters to buy the children’s gifts which were being requested. With the expertise of our partners at OH Creative, a new e-commerce area on our website was created, aptly named ‘Santa’s Shop’. Supporters (young and old) would be able to browse our virtual shop, pledge a gift from the comfort and safety of their own home, and the money would be used to buy gifts as and when the requests came in. Santa’s Shop is our very own Amazon wish list alternative, with the added functionality to add gift aid and an extra £5 donation for a parent/carer gift. It’s an asset we are extremely proud of and will serve us well in future Santa Stork campaigns.

Santa’s sleigh has lift off

With Santa’s main toy supplier on board, a team of volunteer elves in place (lead by Chief Elf Abbie), the right technology and a flexible plan, we were ready for launch! We had a fantastic kick-start to the project through a match funding opportunity via LocalGiving; anyone donating to our fundraising page within a certain timeframe had their donation doubled (restrictions applied). This was basically ‘free money’ which resulted in £6,597 of additional funds. We were grateful for the opportunity and to everyone who helped us take advantage of this offer.

As the second lockdown hit the UK, we encouraged those who were able to, to grab a mince pie, involve the children where possible and pledge a gift through Santa’s Shop. We can now tell you that Santa’s shop has taken donations totalling £31,272 (this figure includes gift aid to be claimed). One of things this year has proven is how adaptable people are; we’d like to thank everyone who embraced this new Santa Stork way of working. We’ve loved seeing all the purchases come in and, as a result, have been able to place some hefty but much-needed orders with Toy Barnhaus.

Community space working for the community

Speaking of big orders, it quickly became clear that having our Reigate warehouse as the project base was going to be too much of a squeeze to work in a COVID-safe way. The core team and regular volunteers at the warehouse were busy themselves answering a large volume of general referrals. A call was made to Cllr. Mark Brunt (Council Leader) from Reigate & Banstead Borough Council and within days Santa Stork had moved into its new home at the Harlequin Theatre & Cinema in Redhill. We set up in the main auditorium which was the perfect solution: Ample space (which of course we still managed to fill) that enabled us to have more hands on deck; easy access for deliveries/collections; town centre location which proved useful for supplies and gift top-ups; and, the Harlequin team which could not have been more accommodating. It meant that every Santa Stork day was a Giving Day and with the amount of gifts we were processing, this became invaluable.

Special visitors

It’s of course sad that the usual Harlequin panto couldn’t happen this year, but everyone agreed that to use the space in this positive way and to fill it with such Christmas magic, has been the next best thing. We even had Simon Bashford – aka Redhill’s much-loved panto Dame spend a day volunteering with us – he was absolutely amazed at the scale of the project and the theatre hall’s transformation, but equally humbled after chatting with referrals about the desperate circumstances of some of the families we were helping.

Speaking of VIPS, we also had the honour of welcoming Mr Michael More-Molyneux (HM Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey), Mr Shahid Azeem (The High Sheriff of Surrey) and Cllr. Rosemary Absalom (Mayor of Reigate & Banstead) at different volunteering sessions with us. Their hands-on approach meant there was plenty to keep them busy, by making up gift bags aplenty and loading cars whilst attentively chatting to the referrals picking up.

Gifts – making a difference

As commented on by our VIP visitors; it’s only after seeing the team in action and the sheer number of gifts being bundled that the size of the project can be fully appreciated. But also, what struck them was the care and attention which went into every single gift bag: A specifically chosen present; an age-appropriate stocking filler (book (thank you BookTrust)/chocolate coins/selection box); and, all beautifully presented in a festive gift bag (thank you Partners Group). Furthermore, if we received a very specific gift request which couldn’t be fulfilled from our catalogue, we were able to use the funds to make such individual purchases, like the guinea pig notepad which was included for a teenager who loves guinea pigs.

We understand that the parents/carers have enough to worry about, so wrapping paper and tape should not be one of them. With every families’ gifts we included wrapping paper and tape (thank you Staples for donating 1,300 rolls of tape and Sal’s Shoes for organising). It’s important that the parents/carers feel part of the process and the children know that the gifts are from them or Santa (not Stripey Stork). Any other items required to ensure the gifts can be played with straight away were also included, such as batteries or even a pump needed to blow up a football – we had it covered!

“I collected all the amazing gifts and while the children were at school I delivered to the parents. They were overwhelmed, grateful, humbled, and very happy and honoured to be given the gifts from you and asked me to say thank you. From all of them to all of you, thank you, it has made a huge difference and when they were given the paper and tape too they cried.”

Home School Link Worker

We’ve received so many thank you’s from those making referrals on behalf of the families, and even the families themselves. We’ve put together a compilation video of just some of these messages of appreciation as gifts were being collected/dropped-off with the referral partners.

No one forgotten

We also like to include a toiletry gift set for each parent/carer, lovingly wrapped by us so they too have something to open on Christmas Day, along with a Stripey Stork Christmas card. We have LexisNexis Risk Solutions to thank for their help with this, buying and wrapping 100 adult gifts which was a fantastic contribution.

Also, a big thanks to Peanut’s #SantaIsAWoman campaign and the Beauty Banks for the amazing toiletry donations we’ve been able to put to the best use. Not to mention everyone who added an extra £5 to their Santa Shop order so a gift for the parent/carer could be included.

And we never forget our referral partners; an extension of our team who work tirelessly all year round, but particularly this year and especially at Christmas. They know how important Santa Stork is to their supported families and they get to bring them the good news that Christmas won’t be cancelled. They take the time to find out what gift would make each child’s Christmas special, work with us on logistics and finally (the best part) get to deliver the presents. Thanks to Tropic we were able to give our referrals a truly deserved pamper treat of their own.

Partnerships to be thankful for

We have so many partnering businesses, schools and community groups to thank, which is why we have a long list of thank you’s at the end of this blog. Such as Morrisons Solicitors who’ve been long standing supporters of Stripey Stork and our Christmas campaign, but this year they literally took the front seat by heading out on deliveries every Friday in their van. Every week we’ve been graced with new faces from their team to help, always with a smile, and we simply couldn’t have managed some of the bigger orders without them. In the last week, where we managed to distribute 2,689 alone, Osborne and their trusty van were also there to save the day.

We’ve had local companies who’ve supported Santa Stork from the very beginning, such as Celtic Contractors. This year was no exception as their employees clubbed together to place our biggest shop order totalling £885. We’ve also welcomed some new businesses to Team Stork after they heard about the campaign and wanted to get involved. Supporting Santa Stork as an alternative to Secret Santa or sending corporate Christmas cards seemed to be a common theme and a great idea.

Partners Group were very generous with their time (volunteering on site at three different sessions), as well as with their money (funding the gift bags and a portion of the teenage gifts). Thank you for making a massive contribution to what we’ve been able to achieve.

Others were able to help from further afield, such as Fidelity who shared our Santa Shop internally amongst their employees which resulted in an influx of orders being placed, just at a time when daily gift requests were at an all-time high. There’s been such amazing support from the business community and we’ve tried to capture them all in the below thank you’s, but please take the time to read them as they all deserve recognition for being such an asset to our community.

Fundraisers raising the bar

We also had a small army of fundraisers out there doing some weird and wonderful things to save Christmas. The Reigate Grammar School under 15’s girl’s hockey squad really went the distance, by collectively and virtually exercising their way from Reigate to Lapland. They raised an astronomical £2,782 (including gift aid) and came to visit us at the Harlequin to see for themselves the 150 gifts we’d been able to buy because of their hard work and determination.

Hot on their trail were the pupils of Reigate St Mary’s School who took on a similar fundraising Lapland challenge of their own, with a target of £1,452 to cover 1,452 miles – just amazing!

Then we had Kelly from Boogie Monsters with her crazy 24 hour song request charity challenge. From 10am on Friday 4th December, right through until 10am the next day, Kelly was live on Facebook playing keyboard/singing non-stop music from the hundreds of requests which came flooding in from people donating to her fundraiser. We even had Kelly as the backdrop to one of our busy Friday volunteering sessions which our panto Dame also got to enjoy. We are so proud of Kelly who wanted to use her musical gift to do good and did just that by raising a total of £805 for Santa Stork. Her energy is contagious and unstoppable, what a superstar!

We also had some great charity raffles, like the one by Becky Pearce Designs who was giving away a beautiful set of handmade birthstone stacking rings and managed to raise £761 in funds. We were also fortunate enough to be one of the chosen charities supported by the East Surrey Online Christmas Market raffle, with over 80 local stallholders donating some fantastic prizes and raising £800 for Santa Stork.

You can see the full list of fundraisers in the thank you’s below; we are grateful to every single one of them for using their connections and talents to make such a positive difference.

Family support

So many of you got your children involved and we loved hearing the stories of children choosing gifts they love for another child less fortunate. Whilst we’re extremely grateful for the all the corporate support, this campaign is truly powered by the wonderful local families who support us all year round.

One family deserve a special thank you. Towards the end of the campaign the team had been discussing what to do as the number of present requests were rising but the funding pot was being quickly spent. Almost on cue a notification arrived from a local family explaining that they really wanted to help this year and they were kindly making a £10,000 donation to the campaign. They want to remain anonymous, but we want them to know just how much this support meant and that it ensured that every last request could be fulfilled. Incredible generosity with far reaching impact.

The figures speak for themselves

This Santa Stork we set ourselves a target of distributing 3,750 total gifts (2,500 children and 1,250 adults) and we actually reached an astonishing 5,168 in total! Every year we see an exponential increase and this year has been no exception.

Santa Stork 2020: 3,631 children/1,537 adults = 5,168 (56% increase on last year)

Santa Stork 2019: 2276 children/1047 adults = 3,323

Santa Stork 2018: 1517 children/828 adults = 2,345

Santa Stork 2017: 1040 children/438 adults = 1,478

Santa Stork 2016: 767 children/370 adults = 1,137

Santa Stork 2015: 487 children/295 adults = 782

Santa Stork 2014: 146 children/56 adults = 202

It goes without saying that the pandemic is the reason why requests are so high this year. The primary reason as to why families are referred to Santa Stork vary, from unemployment (29%) and domestic abuse (9%), to homelessness (3%) and mental health (8%). But one thing’s for sure, if COVID-19 wasn’t the catalyst for their hardship it’s certainly made their situation a whole lot worse. Many families like this one have never had to rely on charity before, but after an incredibly tough year they’ve been left with no other option.

Then you have the families who have been hit hard by tragedy, explained in this thank you note from one Grandmother:

“…my three grandkids are in my care, as their Daddy (my son) passed away last year. They are aged 6, 8 and 9 years old and it was such a lovely thing to receive a Christmas present for them. They were so very happy to put presents under the tree it meant a lot to them and to me.”

Whatever the reasoning behind their misfortunes, we hope we’ve helped in giving them back Christmas.

Thank you’s

Even though the demand has been far more than we could have ever predicted, so too has the support! The size of the following list is indicative of how Santa Stork really has brought the community together with the common goal of saving Christmas for these vulnerable children. We hope we’ve captured everyone, but if not then please let us know so we can add you to the list.

Two organisations which have been fundamental to the project’s success are:

  • Toy Barnhaus – an integral project partner, and we are delighted it’s been a mutually beneficial arrangement. A special thanks to Stephen for overseeing the ordering and delivery process, and for generally making things happen.
  • Reigate & Banstead Borough Council and the Harlequin Theatre & Cinema – for providing the space we needed for a project of this magnitude. The fact that 32% of Santa Stork requests were for families living within the borough is testament to how we’ve been able to utilise the space for the good of the local community.

Dream Team

  • The amazing Santa Stork project team who’ve worked so hard to successfully deliver Christmas: Chief Elf Abbie assisted by Margarida, Donna and Laura – a proud accomplishment by all!
  • Turquoise team bubble: Alanna, Alex, Andrea C, Ann, Anna, Chris B, Chris G, Emily, Emma, Harvey, Jacqueline Wi, Jo, Lindsey, Louise K, Pauline, Rowena and Ursula.
  • Orange team bubble: Andrea L (and for sourcing over 1,000 toiletry gift sets), Angie, Charlie, Gina, Jacqui, Joanna, Jodi, Karen, Kate, Kathy, Louise N, Nicola H (and for helping with the Santa Shop set up) and Tina.

Sleigh crew

  • Thanks to Megan and Pat for making so many deliveries, as well as all the other volunteers from the list above who helped with this, including Jacqui who’s really clocked up the Santa Stork miles (not only making present deliveries but also sourcing and delivering 2,000 chocolate selection boxes).
  • Morrisons Solicitors – for providing a van/crew to help with deliveries every Friday.
  • Osborne – for stepping in when we really needed extra help with deliveries towards the end.
  • Karl Hyder ‘Man and Van Services’ – for helping with the move to and from the Harlequin.

Funders

Business support

  • Celtic Contractors – Santa Shop purchases of £885 donated by employees, plus a personal contribution made by the family.
  • Total Gas & Power – donated £500 to the appeal and also organised a Bingo event with donations to the appeal.
  • Summer Day Media – donated £500 to the appeal to buy gifts.
  • Ashford House Consultancy Ltd – donated £500 to the appeal to buy gifts.
  • Bailhache Linton – donated to the appeal instead of sending corporate Christmas cards (and promoted on social media).
  • Walter & Mair – Santa Shop purchases.
  • Garnett Keeler PR – Santa Shop purchases on behalf of each of their employees and sent thank you certificates in gift packs ahead of a team get together over Zoom.
  • Fletcher George – Santa Shop purchases of £300.
  • MBL Pilates – donated £300 to the appeal.
  • Kemp Marketing – donated to the appeal instead of exchanging Secret Santa gifts and their annual team festive meal, raising over £300.
  • Boori – donated £200 to the appeal, included message on their Christmas e-card instead of sending physical cards to retail partners.
  • Pfizer – team Christmas jumper coffee morning, encouraged to donate instead of doing Secret Santa.
  • Fidelity – directed employees to Santa’s Shop.
  • Willis Towers Watson – the Risk Solutions Team for promoting Santa’s Shop to employees.
  • IHS Markit, Grant Thornton International, Mercer, Puzzler – promoted campaign amongst employees.
  • Morrisons supermarket, Reigate – 10% discount on wrapping paper.

Community groups

Donated items

  • Tropics – hundreds of pots of overnight hand masks for referral gifts.
  • LexisNexis Risk Solutions (formerly Reed Business Information) – employees bought and wrapped 100 adult gifts (and a shout-out to the team of volunteers that helped with the creative toy descriptions for Santa’s Shop).
  • Peanut – organised donations of #SantaIsAWoman boxes filled with toiletries for Mum/female carer gifts.
  • BookTrust – supplied 1,200 books for the under 3’s stocking fillers.
  • Beauty Banks – toiletries for teenager/Mum/female carer gifts. We were also able to use them as thank you gifts for our volunteers and community partners.
  • Staples – donated 1,300 rolls of tape and thanks to CJ from Sal’s Shoes for putting us in contact.
  • Tesco Gatwick Community Champions – donated some wrapping paper and selection boxes.
  • Volunteer Andrea’s neighbour – donated 6 boxes of Malteser reindeers as they were surplus to stock at Gatwick Spire where she works.

Individual support

  • The kind local family who donated £10,000 to the appeal.
  • John Smith – personally donated £250 to the appeal.
  • Emily and Jo – purchased popular gifts from raffle funds and made a significant personal contribution.
  • Ali – who helped sourced lots of toiletry gift sets for parent/carer gifts.
  • Holly – did a great job promoting the appeal amongst two local schools and five local churches.
  • Saccone Jolys – Reigate-based vloggers who donated a carload of new toys to kick-start the campaign.
  • Jane – donated 12 teenage girl gifts from a £100 Body Shop raffle prize she won.

Fundraisers

  • Reigate Grammar School – to the U15’s girls’ hockey squad for their journey to Lapland raising £2,782 (including gift aid).
  • Reigate St Mary’s School – for their collective fundraising Lapland challenge and to teacher Lesley for volunteering with us for the day.
  • Boogie Monsters – Kelly (part joined by Brother Ben) and her 24 hour live song request charity challenge raising £805 for Santa Stork.
  • Becky Pearce Designs – organised the stacking ring raffle raising £761.
  • East Surrey Online Christmas Market – a Facebook group of local stallholders and shoppers who raised £800 for Santa Stork so we were able to make a big purchase from Santa’s Shop.
  • Isobel (and Mum Lucy) – raised £208 with friends and family to buy 16 gifts from Santa’s Shop. She also earned her ‘Speaking Out’ Brownie badge after doing a presentation about Santa Stork to her class.
  • AKM Hair – volunteer Anna who ran an Instagram/Facebook gift raffle raising £110.
  • Carla – for organising a Minnie Mouse doorstop socially distanced meet and greet.
  • Kerry (volunteer) – donated a Body Shop advent calendar to raffle amongst our volunteers which raised £75 to the fund.

Schools

Special visitors

It was a pleasure to have the following join the Santa Stork team for a volunteering session:

PR/other

  • OH Creative – Faye and Matt for doing such a fabulous job on the design and implementation of Santa’s Shop.
  • YLLBB – promoted (no fee) in the winter edition and online.
  • RH Uncovered – promoted via editorial.
  • Family Grapevine East Surrey e-newsletter – complimentary Santa Stork ad.
  • Shona Gow – updated some graphic design elements for the campaign.
  • Nicola B – updated some graphic design elements for the campaign.
  • Ava-May – one of our young supporters who starred in a video promoting Santa’s Shop.
  • Reigate Hill Golf Club – promoted amongst its members.
  • Croydon Whitgift Rotary – promoted within its community.

Last but never least, thank you to all of our amazing referral partners for: being that vital link between us and your supported families; being so flexible this year with our new way of working; and, for doing such a great job this Christmas and generally all year round!

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