All over the country, volunteers are working to give care leavers a Christmas Day they’ll never forget… and they’re not letting a global pandemic stand in their way.
“The Christmas Dinner” project was set up with the intention that no care leaver would be left alone on Christmas Day. Founded by the poet, Lemn Sissay MBE, each Dinner is its own individual project run by local volunteers who come together to make the Christmas Day magic happen.
Like many things this year, these Dinners have had to adapt to the pandemic. But thanks to the imagination and determination of everyone involved, this Christmas there will still be food, presents, laughter and love.
At Ellesmere Port, volunteer Jess is feeling full of enthusiasm for their adapted plans.
“All our focus and energy is about making our care leavers feel special. We’re working with some of the most vulnerable young people, and the need hasn’t gone away with covid, if anything the need is more.
“The last two years we’ve held it in a theatre as we’re linked to a local charity called Action Transport Theatre, but this year we wanted to find the most innovative and creative way of making it happen – and that’s spurred us on.”
Because care leavers can’t come to Christmas Dinner this year, they’re taking Christmas dinners to them. Jess and her team will be delivering over 40 hampers and gifts, direct to the doors of her guests.
“Every care leaver has already been sent a card saying that we’re looking forward to spending Christmas with them.”
Down in London, Pam and her team have planned for a remote Christmas dinner as well as one held in the venue just in case restrictions are lifted.
“We’re determined to put something on, determined to show the kids someone cares.
“We will be delivering the hot meals, maybe at three different time slots so they can eat with people. As well as the food hamper there will be presents and an activity box.”
This activity box contains games that can be played online in a zoom hang out with other guests.
“We still want them to have some form of interaction. It will be virtual, but we have activities like DJs on board, kids can watch the set from home with shout outs throughout the day.”
What’s striking about both Pam and Jess’s approach is how personalised the scheme is, from asking each care leaver what they would like, to individualised handmade name tags for the stockings.
Georgia, 19, is a care leaver who attended her first Christmas dinner at Ellesmere Port last year.
“Lots of young people don’t have the usual family set up and when you don’t have it you can feel a bit left out.
“Last year the staff were amazing, the atmosphere was amazing. This year on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day they will be delivering parcels, and I’ve been asked to put together a playlist.”
“It touches my heart that these people are strangers and they’ve been taking time on Christmas Day and the months leading up to it to make it special.
“I said on Christmas Day last year that I would definitely come back the following year. This year’s a bit different but we’ll adapt. Last year there were smiles all round and no one was unhappy, so I’m looking forward to Christmas this year!”