This Welsh Charities Week Natalie Zhivkova, Volunteering Policy Officer at WCVA, highlights an inspiring community appeal running for over six decades.
Welsh Charities Week is our annual reminder to celebrate the efforts of charitable organisations across Wales. Big or small, new or old, formal or informal – all of them play an important role in our voluntary sector ecosystem, but more importantly – in people’s lives. As we are approaching the holiday season, I want to take this opportunity to shed a light on an amazing community project which is celebrating its 63rd consecutive year putting smiles on children’s faces in South Wales.
WHERE ARE YOU CHRISTMAS? WHY CAN’T I FIND YOU?
Christmas is coming and, for those of us who grew up celebrating the holiday, it evokes strong emotions. The anticipation and excitement that comes with unwrapping a special gift from Father Christmas is a treasured memory for many, but, equally, the holidays have not always been a happy occasion for others.
The goal of the Mr X Christmas Appeal is simple: keeping the Christmas magic alive by gifting a fond Christmas memory to children at risk of not receiving anything from Father Christmas. It’s a wonderful campaign allowing children to retain their sense of wonder, know they are just as deserving as their peers, and enjoy a special present picked out for them with a lot of care.
There are a lot of fantastic charities, social enterprises and businesses distributing gifts to children, especially around Christmas time. What makes the Mr X Christmas Appeal special is the unique way it has been run entirely by informal volunteers for over 60 years.
It all started in the 1950s with a little girl called Francesca. Francesca lived in an orphanage but was sometimes taken on day trips with a local family – the family of Mr X. Mr X made sure Francesca always had a gift for Christmas. But he soon realised there are many children in the orphanage going without.
Mr X told friends and colleagues about the other children and gifts started coming in. Before too long, he was being approached by strangers on the street and his simple act of kindness soon turned into a community effort to provide all children in the orphanage with a special gift from Father Christmas.
A couple of years later Mr X moved to Swansea and started working on an appeal in the local area…
This year the Mr X Christmas Appeal will be helping around 6,000 children across South Wales, from Carmarthen to Newport.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The process is very simple:
- Child care agencies provide the Mr X Christmas Appeal with a list of children in need
- The Mr X Christmas Appeal matches the children with individuals who would like to provide a Christmas gift
- The gifts are handed to the Mr X Christmas Appeal, then passed onto the child care agencies and received by each child on Christmas day
WHO IS MR X?
Mr X, much like Father Christmas, is not often seen. The original Mr X passed away six years ago and his son has now taken over the operation. I managed to send him a couple of questions through one of his trusty Elves (volunteer helpers).
The current Mr X shared he has been involved in the appeal in some capacity from an early age. Ever since he’s taken over the appeal he dedicates from 35 to 60 hours a week between September and January to make it all work. He insists, however, that he could never do it without his many volunteer helpers, especially Mrs X who looks after the sorting centre and her husband, the Transport Elf, who coordinates Morriston Rotary Club’s volunteer drivers.
All Elves are informal volunteers, just like Mr and Mrs X, coming back year after year to run the appeal. And if you are wondering how someone can fit 60 hours of volunteering in a week – Mr X is now retired and only works part-time, but he used to take some of his annual leave to volunteer for the appeal when he had a full-time job.
INTERVIEW WITH AN ELF
My introduction to Mr X Christmas Appeal came from a friendly Elf called Karen. Karen helps run the Cardiff branch of the appeal and is responsible for the collection of gifts for over 300 local children this year. She spends one to two hours a day volunteering for the appeal in October but by the end of November dedicates all weekends and a few hours every weekday to make sure she stays on top of all tasks.
Karen first got involved over 15 years ago when she worked in a large call centre (a perfect place to launch a workplace appeal!). She is now a long-standing member of WCVA’s HR team and has been running an appeal with us for many years.
Many WCVA colleagues get involved by signing up to provide a gift for a child, some even volunteering their homes as collection points and helping with transportation. The Mr X Christmas appeal has become an intrinsic part of the season for WCVA staff and something we look forward to every year.
When asked what she has learned over many years being involved in the appeal, Karen said ‘how kind the world can be when it matters.’
IT TAKES A COMMUNITY
The Mr X Christmas Appeal is entirely ran by informal volunteers. It has no paid staff and accepts no cash donations. It’s completely dependent on the good will of people who wish to provide gifts, and those volunteering their time to organise it all. It’s an astonishing example of how much community volunteering can achieve. Here is how it has been enabled by different contributors:
Each person who has promoted Mr X Christmas Appeal over the years is a force for good in their community – whether that’s a workplace, a block of flats, or a hobby group. This is what keeps the gifts coming and the reach expanding.
Child care agencies have needed to be flexible, trusting and cooperative in this process to ensure children are referred on time, instructions are given, and the gifts are received.
Employer supported volunteering, flexible working, creating an accommodating workplace environment (to organise an employee collection and use business premises as a temporary storage or drop-off point where possible), and being accommodating with annual leave.
Many businesses have helped the Mr X Christmas Appeal over the years – from promoting the campaign, launching appeals with their customers, donating gifts directly, through to offering their premises as collection points or even distribution hubs.
The Mr X Christmas Appeal has truly been a team effort and a great example of cross-sector collaboration. It has created a community of individuals, institutions, business owners and employers who come together (in greater numbers every year) to achieve a common goal. Employing the five ways of working, the Mr X Christmas Appeal is creating A More Equal Wales, A Wales of Cohesive Communities.
Unfortunately, it’s too late to get involved in the Mr X Christmas Appeal this year (all gifts need to be handed over before the end of November to ensure they are distributed on time for Christmas). But you can set a reminder to get in touch in October 2023!
Find out more on the Mr X Christmas Appeal Facebook page.
Christmas gift appeals in other regions:
- PATCH (Pembrokeshire Action to Combat Hardship) Christmas Toy Appeal
- North Wales Superkids Toy Box Appeal
- Powys County Council Children’s Services Appeal
This blog is part of a series highlighting community volunteering which is often underreported. Read another community volunteering case study here.
MORE ON WELSH CHARITIES WEEK
Welsh Charities Week is taking place 21-25 November 2022, a week all about recognising the work of charities, social enterprises, voluntary organisations and community and volunteer groups across Wales.
Find out more at welshcharitiesweek.cymru.