It is a veritable nightmare for any parent to wake up on Christmas morning and be greeted by tears. Unfortunately, this is an all too common occurrence in Northern Ireland with over 100,000 children living below the poverty line. The Cash for Kids Mission Christmas appeal seeks to ensure that every child wakes up to a visit from Santa.

Responding to the needs of children in communities across the UK, Cash for Kids are a network of charities owned and run by Bauer Media. For nine months of the year, each of the charities raise money in their respective areas to help support children who are disabled, disadvantaged or suffering from abuse or neglect so that they can live life to the full and realise their individual potential.

“Disadvantaged is our activation word” says Darren Fowler who is the charity’s regional manager in Northern Ireland. “In reality, we support those who may be struggling socially, educationally, physically or financially. We have supported big projects such as helping charities to build a premises to deliver their vital services right down to an individual who might be struggling with traditional education and lacking focus so that they might learn to thrive in a social or alternative educational setting. Once we know how we can help, we try to eradicate disadvantages, whatever they might be.”

For many families, Christmas is a luxury that they simply cannot afford. In the modern context, disadvantages are never so evident than at this time of year. The commercial nature of Christmas can put families under immense financial and social pressure. Many parents are therefore faced with a decision – in order to provide something for their children on Christmas morning, something has to give. Some choose to leave the heating off, others decide to cut back on food, many incur debt. For many more, Christmas simply doesn’t enter the equation.

 “Of course, a toy is a nice thing to receive on Christmas morning,” Fowler says, “but more importantly for the family unit, the day is celebrated in the same was as everybody else in society seems to. It can be hugely damaging for a child to go out into the street and have to make up stories as to why they are wearing the same clothes they have worn throughout the year. It becomes a routine day. This is where we come in – there is a great deal of goodwill in Northern Ireland. People are happy to give and support. We are the conduit through which all of that good flows.”

With just two full-time staff members to deal with over 13,000 applicants in 2016, the charity relies on the help of the Northern Irish community to meet with the demand. This year, thanks to an established relationship between Business in the Community Northern Ireland and Rugby Players Ireland, members of the Ulster Rugby squad got the chance to play their part.

“Having a child of my own, as well as nieces and nephews, I know how special Christmas morning can be,” the 19-times capped Australian Christian Lealiifano tells us. “I am very fortunate that my career has given me the chance to provide them with many of the things they might ever need or want. Sadly, some parents struggle to put food on the table at Christmas, not to mention a gift under the tree. I don’t want any child to be left behind, especially at this time of year. It was great to help such a great initiative and see how much the public actually care. There are so many kids out there in need of a gift this Christmas and this was my small way of doing something about it.”

“What we do is not possible without volunteers,” Fowler asserts. “The difference that the lads have made in the few hours that they have been here with us is vast. It would take our team an entire day to get so much done. They also find it to be a bit of a humbling experience. For each child we try to arrange bundles into £45 worth of gifts. Very few of these guys will have any gift sitting on their couch worth less than £45. But it can make a massive difference to one of our families. The parents or guardians can sit down and enjoy Christmas morning, while their children feel the warmth and love that every child should feel on that special day.”   


Richard McElwee

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