Winter Toy Appeal: Organisers call for more help as support workers paint bleak picture of child poverty

Jenna Fansa and her husband Basil surrounded by toys during last year’s appeal. Photograph: StokeyParents

A charity appeal that is collecting toys and food for Hackney’s poorest families this winter is calling for more donations – after hearing about the desperate state of child poverty in the borough from local support workers.

Family network StokeyParents, along with sister company Local Buyers Club, is running its Winter Toy and Food Appeal for the fifth year running – and this time, it is hoping to reach 5,000 children.

Appeal founder Jenna Fansa said: “Imagine working every day but still not having enough money to feed, clothe and house your family.

“Imagine pleading with the council for help with housing but being stuck in temporary accommodation in Dagenham, Romford or Ilford – while your children attend schools in Hackney.

“Imagine being so hungry that you take your tea with eight sugars. Imagine knowing you’re the only child in a primary school class who won’t get a gift this Christmas.

“Imagine your young family is housed in hostel accommodation in a block that’s full of violence and anger. Imagine not being able to afford to buy nappies for your young baby.

“This, according to local support workers, is the picture for thousands of families in Hackney.”

Jenna says many of these families are working – many on low-paid, zero-hours contracts, with no job security.

She added: “The rising cost of rent and food and changes to the benefits system means thousands of local families are enduring unimaginable hardship.”

According to the latest research by End Child Poverty, a coalition of welfare groups and charities across the UK, 14,362 or 39.8 per cent of children in Hackney North and Stoke Newington live below the poverty line.

In Hackney South and Shoreditch, the number is 11,774 – 43.3 per cent of the children in the constituency.

Clare Reay of Ivy Street Family Centre, the Hoxton-based charity which distributes donations to the appeal through a huge network of support workers and organisations, said: “When families reach us, they’re broken – they don’t want rely on charity, especially when they’re working.

“For many parents, knowing that doing everything they can to support their family still isn’t enough makes them feel like they’re just not good enough. They’re isolated and embarrassed to talk about how bad things are.

“They’re terrified of admitting how bad things have become because they’re scared the social workers will take their children away.

“We see many parents who aren’t eating enough – it’s the old ‘sugar in the tea’ test. If they ask for eight sugars – as they often do – we know they’re hungry and too proud to ask for food.

“Families whose children go to schools in Hackney are being housed in Dagenham, Romford and Ilford. They spend all their money on transport to get to school each day and mothers literally walk the streets while their children are at school because they haven’t enough money to go home and back.

Reay says the appeal often needs more toys for children aged eight to 18, adding: “It isn’t such a massive deal for a toddler not to get a gift at Christmas but children at the end of primary school or secondary school are very aware of their situation – they know their lives are different to their peers.

“I can’t imagine how awful it would feel for my nine-year-old son to be the only child in his class who doesn’t get a gift at Christmas when everyone else does.”

The Winter Toy and Food Appeal collects new gifts for the poorest children in Hackney and Islington.

They’re distributed by the Ivy Street Family Centre via social workers, refuges, hostels, schools, children’s centres, hospitals, a migrant centre and food banks.

The appeal also collects non-perishable food for people in need.

This year, the appeal is approaching every school in Hackney to ensure every child experiencing extreme hardship gets a gift.

Last year’s appeal reached 4,000 children. This time, the organisers hope to help at least 5,000 children across Hackney and Islington.

You can donate new toys and non-perishable food during office hours at Location Location estate agency at 18 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 0LU.

Location Location will also accept deliveries of toys purchased through the online wishlist, so make a note of the address if you’d like to send any donations there.

​Other drop-off points are at Sandbrook Playgroup at 85 Sandbrook Road, Jane Edwards hair salon on Kynaston Road and Askew Eyewear on the corner of Albion Road and Church Street.

To buy toys online, have a look through the wishlist compiled by ISFC with the help of social workers at

For more information about the appeal, head to

Any businesses or schools interested in supporting the appeal can get in touch with Jenna at

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