Volunteer and staff ‘workshop elves’ from The Smith Family’s Toy and Book Appeal have been working hard to make sure disadvantaged children in Adelaide still get to share the joy of Christmas (Image source: The Smith Family)
By Nikita Skuse | @nikita_skuse
The Stirling Angas Hall at the Adelaide Showgrounds has very closely resembled the North Pole this December with The Smith Family’s Toy and Book Appeal preparations taking place inside.
The Smith Family is a children’s education charity that focuses on supporting children’s schooling to break the cycle of poverty.
Dr Lisa O’Brien, The Smith Family’s CEO, said that although education is the organisation’s focus, it is still a priority for them to see children included at Christmas by receiving gifts.
“The Smith Family was founded at Christmas time in 1922 by five businessmen who, aware of the extent of poverty in their communities, gave gifts to boys at a local orphanage,” Dr O’Brien said.
“Each year, we continue this tradition through our Toy and Book Appeal.”
The organisation has been calling on the community to donate new toys and books for the 27,000 children it supports, which will be delivered with the help of hundreds of volunteers today, 15 December.
In the week leading up to today, volunteers and staff – aptly labelled ‘workshop elves’ – have been working hard sorting through donations and packing gifts for children at the showgrounds.
A walk through the workshop was incredibly humbling – with each elf’s passion for the task undoubtedly enough to fill even the greatest Scrooges with Christmas spirit.
One festive workshop elf, Felicia Mellors, works for AECOM, an engineering firm and one of the many companies that support the Smith Family.
According to Ms Mellors, AECOM runs its own toy appeal over Christmas and dollar matches any donations made.
It also encourages employees to volunteer with the Smith Family during the charity’s Toy and Book Appeal.
Ms Mellors is somewhat of a veteran when it comes to Christmas volunteering, saying that she tries to volunteer somewhere each Christmas.
“Last year I volunteered at Hutt Street Centre,” she said.
“It was good sorting out all the Christmas donations into categories for their hampers and food packs.”
Ms Mellors believes the festive season is an especially important time to be charitable.
“If you are underprivileged or in poverty I think you feel it the most at Christmas when everybody’s celebrating and you can’t,” she said.
“I think it’s important to include everyone because what’s Christmas without giving?”
Ms Mellors said Christmas volunteering is a fun and rewarding experience that more people should try.
“It doesn’t take much. It’s only a day of your time.
“Most people should do it.”
Another merry elf was April Economou, The Smith Family’s volunteer engagement and retention manager, whose role is to make sure volunteers are looked after and have a great experience in the hope they keep coming back to The Smith Family.
Ms Economou swapped her regular office tasks this week to be a workshop elf, something she has done for the past few Christmases.
She said it is a great experience to work on the ground with the Toy and Book Appeal each year as it’s a way to see how her work directly impacts families.
Around 20 elves volunteered at the showgrounds each day in the past week to put the toy and book packages together, and Ms Economou expressed how grateful The Smith Family was for each person.
“We have over 8800 volunteers with us in any given year, which is a lot, and it’s really important to us that they keep coming back because they’re the backbone of our organisation,” Ms Economou said.
“We simply couldn’t exist or do what we do without them.”
According to The Smith Family, the best ways Australians can help out this Christmas are by making a donation; purchasing a toy or book for a child in need; sponsoring a child or volunteering their time, skills and energy; all of which can be done through the charity.
If The Smith Family doesn’t reach people in your town and helping out closer to home is more your style, many communities around South Australia have smaller scale Christmas appeals that you could get involved with.
Check with local charities, churches or community groups to see how you can spread extra Christmas cheer in your area this holiday season.
For more information about The Smith Family and their Toy and Book Appeal, visit the charity’s website.