Spirit of Christmas was set up in 2008 by MRS Training & Rescue’s Lead IQA Ronnie Munro and his wife Diane, to provide family Christmas parties for local socially and economically disadvantaged families. Wanting to give something back to their community from the outset, the couple contributed significantly to the parties. As the parties grew bigger and expanded, Ronnie and Diane couldn’t afford to fund them on their own, so they set up a small charity.
Over the year’s things have grown and they now run parties in Brayton near Selby, Carcroft near Doncaster, and Acomb near York. Around 420 children in total plus adults attend. Over two thirds gain free entry with tickets distributed via Doncaster children’s services and Kinship carers. Remaining children pay £3 admission.
Over 5,000 children have enjoyed these parties so far, with each one enjoying 2 hours of entertainment, food and drinks, a visit from Santa plus souvenir photos, and a good quality toy. Some of the children who come to the parties are not allowed to open their presents as it may be a big present for them on Christmas day. Spirit of Christmas creates a special memory for all those attending.
This year will be the 12th year of operating Spirit of Christmas but due to the Covid19 pandemic, the charity has not been able to organise or run Christmas parties this year. However, determined to still provide festive cheer and toys to those families most at need, Ronnie and his team are giving out toys to children in Carcroft and Acomb which are being distributed by agencies the charity deals with.
In Selby, Spirit of Christmas has converted an unused warehouse into a toy shop which is opening on 30 November (Community First Yorkshire has said the event can go ahead despite the lockdown).
From an unused warehouse ... to a fabulous toy shop
The charity has already given out 300 invitations via local primary schools to families most in need. Each day, twenty families will have access to the shop, each at a specific time to ensure social distancing is maintained. One parent will come into the shop and help themselves to a toy for each child they have. They can also wrap each gift and take them away for Christmas morning. In total the shop will be providing around 1,000 children with a toy this Christmas.
The banana box project
Ronnie and Diane have also set up an all year round project called ‘The Banana Box Project.’ The idea came about because they often got cries for help from families during the year who were in desperate financial need and could not afford birthday gifts or school materials for their children. It started with Diane getting banana boxes from her local supermarket and filling them with toys, stationery packs and an age relevant book for each child. Demand for these has grown and they now provide these banana boxes for many families throughout the year which offer a much-needed boost and lifeline.
Despite their best fundraising efforts, there is always a shortfall between funds raised and the cost of holding the parties. So, MRS’ employee benefit trust has donated £500 to help this Christmas. And MRS Training & Rescue’s Major Project Lead, Wendy Masterton, along with one of her friends, has signed up to do the Polar Bear Gold Challenge which consists of swimming 1000 meters a month in less than 7C water temperature. The bigger challenge is that she must follow the Ice Swimming Association rules which means she can only wear a swimming costume and swim cap - no gloves, socks or neoprene is allowed. The challenge has already started, and she is hoping to raise £1,000 towards Spirit of Christmas future parties. You can donate by visiting Wendy’s Just Giving page.
Christmas is going to be especially tough for many families this year and Spirit of Christmas is always looking for donations of new or good quality used toys they can give to families in need. If you are local to the charity do get in touch with them directly. If not, and you wish to help, you can purchase a small gift from the charity’s Amazon Wishlist here – and choose Gift Registry Address as the delivery address.
Looking forward and Ronnie and Diane hope they can reinstate the Christmas parties next year and continue with the toy shop in Selby. Ronnie will have a bit more time to devote to this as he is retiring from MRS Training & Rescue in December after over 40 years with the company. He will be sadly missed but like many who retire, we are sure he will wonder how he ever found time to come to work – especially as he has so many more plans for the charity in years to come! We wish him every success and all the very best.
Ronnie and some of his volunteer helpers at last year’s Christmas parties