Dunelm Christmas appeal organiser overwhelmed by kindness after kids’ ‘heartbreaking gift requests’
3 months ago
The organiser of an annual Christmas gift appeal says the requests for help this year have been the most heartbreaking yet.
Kelly Nichols, who leads the Dunelm Christmas appeal in St Helens to deliver joy at around the festive period, says: “It’s absolutely devastating.
“Over the years, with the cost of living crisis, we have seen the gifts people are asking for change from little luxuries and things to snuggle up to, to practical things for everyday use.”
Among the requests already received are socks and underwear for school, or bobbles and clips ‘to keep my hair tidy’.
One teenage girl asked for a toiletry set, ‘something posh like Dove’, and another girl ‘my very own blanket’. One young boy asked for Haribo Tangfastic sweets and Walkers crisps, and another male high school pupil a ‘little teddy to keep me company at night’.
And the heart-rending list goes on.
“It’s gone from things they’d like to things they need, and it’s heartbreaking. It reduces members of staff to tears.”
But Kelly, a retail assistant and Community Champion for the store, adds: “As hard and as heartbreaking as it is, it’s also reassuring to see that people still care.
“Every year it restores my faith in humanity that however difficult people are finding their own lives – and there is a lot of poverty around, not just in St Helens but across Merseyside and the rest of the UK – they show kindness and generosity to others, and that’s overwhelming too.”
Dunelm launched its Delivering Joy campaign just four years ago to spread a little festive happiness, especially to those who might be alone or who might not receive gifts.
Kelly says: “The idea is that each Dunelm store can make a little bit of a difference to the lives of people in their areas.
“We’re a big company and it’s our way of giving something back.”
Through the campaign, schools, care homes, charities, and other organisations, put forward the names of people who might benefit along with the present they would choose if they were lucky to receive one.
Kelly fills out a tag with the request, the age range and gender of the person, and ties it to a tree at the front of the store so customers can select a tag and a gift to buy.
In the first year it was started the St Helens store delivered 300 gifts, which more than doubled the year after to 700.
But demand has increased – as have people’s donations – and last year it gave out 3,589 presents to people in the area: school children who might otherwise have felt forgotten, elderly people in care homes in the borough, and young carers and those with mental health conditions living in residential units, and more.
This year for the campaign, Kelly has been given 4,000 tags to attach to the tree and ask for support in anticipation of demand – and the appeal has gone viral three weeks earlier than it did in 2022.
And it’s already touched people’s hearts.
Kelly says: “My colleagues have asked me not to leave the tags at the tills for people because they read them and it makes them cry. The other day I was writing out tags while serving customers and a gentleman asked if I was okay because I was in floods of tears!
“It is hard.
“But it’s equally lovely to know that so many people want to help. Last year Dunelm gave 18,000 gifts out throughout the North West alone – and 60,000 throughout the UK. That’s a lot of joy being delivered.
“It is lovely to see that, especially for me here, however difficult life is for people they still give and show kindness. We cleared 250 tags in two hours the other day. I can’t thank the people of St Helens enough – and if I could give everyone who contributes a hug, I would.
“The support we get is phenomenal, it’s outstanding.”
Anyone wanting to help Dunelm Deliver Joy this Christmas can call into their local store for a tag and gift idea.
And Kelly adds: “I have also placed a list of other commonly requested items next to the tree: toiletry sets, books, craft sets, Pokemon cards, teddies, dolls and, for older people, mugs, scarves and hats, tea, coffee, and biscuits.
“We are also endeavouring to give everyone a selection box so, if you can’t get a gift tag, you can perhaps donate a selection box.”
Kelly has already spent 50 hours of her own time arranging the campaign and filling out tags and she smiles: “As well as doing my own job, this is my life until the beginning of December when we deliver all the gifts.
“And I wouldn’t change a single thing!”