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16th Dec 2012 11:26am | By Jade Bremner
It’s the season of goodwill, and there’s no end of opportunities to lend a hand in London. We roll up our sleeves and volunteer
“Welcome to the North Pole,” smiles a woman who’s doing the work of a Christmas elf. I’m inside a top-secret building in London where more than 30 volunteers are furiously wrapping Christmas gifts in brightly coloured paper.
There are boxes stacked everywhere – if the helpers were wearing green pointed hats, the Santa’s grotto theme would be complete. But, among the festivities and frivolities, there’s a serious message.
I’m helping Kids Company, the charity founded by the vibrant Camila Batmanghelidjh to help underprivileged inner-city children.
With Christmas being the season of goodwill, more of us are turning to doing good, instead of pigging out in front of the TV and slugging one too many sherries.
So I’m giving up my time to make sure 4000 children – who may have been involved with drugs, exposed to violence, sexual abuse, poverty, gangs and prostitution – receive a nicely wrapped present on Christmas Day. A worthy cause indeed.
Ex-Peace Corps worker Kaitlin Kubinsky, 27, manages the gift-wrapping project and what she calls the “poverty busting” department.
“Some 36,000 kids are currently being helped by Kids Company,” she tells us, adding that anyone putting their hand up to help at this time of year “makes a huge impact”.
Through street centres, a therapy house and services in schools, Kids Company aims to create a safe, caring, family environment.
And each volunteer project, event and method of support – whether creating food hampers, mentoring, taking kids horse riding or helping them express themselves through art – is tailored to the needs of the individual.
Operations manager Jeremy Stone says: “These kids might be living in poverty, often without basic provisions, and suddenly they’ve got a month’s worth of presents to play with. It’s a supportive network – we help these children feel safe.”
Along with simple but effective projects, such as wrapping gifts, Kids Company runs other activity sessions and schemes that volunteers can join throughout the year.
Colour A Child’s Life is one of them.“We decorate a home that’s in need, do painting, [assemble] flatpack furniture and lay carpets,” Kubinsky explains.
And the benefits aren’t a one-way street – the sense of satisfaction volunteering brings is second to none, she adds.
“It’s an indescribable feeling working with Kids Company; you get this warmth inside,” she smiles.
“When the families come home after a Colour A Child’s Life scheme, and you see the reaction from the children, you know you’ve made a difference.
”With so many worthwhile projects vying for your attention in London, it’s difficult to decide which to dedicate your time to.
Often there’s an emotional connection. Matthew Connolly, a volunteer for Samaritans, knows this more than most.
“Christmas is often a period of joy and festive cheer for many people,” Connolly, 26, says.
“However, for some groups, this is not quite the case.
Four years ago, I didn’t have a reason to live, or a reason to get up in the morning,” he explains.
“My life simply consisted of eating very little, attending a job that I hated, sleeping a lot, and then waking up to do the same again the next day.”