The festive season can be a depressing time for students without a stable family home to return to, which is why staff at City College Plymouth are collecting for hampers full of food, toiletries and warm clothes for their most deprived youngsters, writes Paul Offord.
Staff at City College Plymouth could not stand the thought of impoverished young students going hungry while they enjoyed Christmas dinner with their families.
They decided to take action after hearing heartbreaking stories from young people who had no family to turn to, or in some cases even a home to stay in over the festive season.
A team of volunteers led by Julie Mclean, director of work-based learning and school partnerships at the college, started collecting food, toiletries and warm clothes to be packed into festive hampers for the most deprived learners three years ago.
The idea that they should receive at least one Christmas present, which could help feed them throughout the holidays, caught on with generous staff from across the college who have donated more and more each festive season.
Julie hopes there will be enough donations this year for at least 30 hampers, which would be a record.
She said: “It all came about when we realised we had students who wouldn’t have anything to eat over Christmas.
“Staff were bringing in things for them and we thought ‘there are probably a lot more who need help’.
“When you have a young person who is only 16 or 17 years old and they tell you they aren’t going to have anything to eat over Christmas it is quite upsetting, especially when you have a lovely family at home.”
Julie’s team has made-up around 60 hampers over the last three years.
She hopes to be able to make more than ever before this year, because staff from private firm Princess Yachts International will also be donating.
Justine Foccone, the company’s training and development manager, said: “Being able to support the Christmas hamper collection is a real honour.
“Our staff are keen to show support and collection points are being made available across all our Plymouth sites to ensure that we collect as much as possible.”
Julie said the college’s teachers are were-placed to identify students most in need of help. She said: “Our staff have a rapport with students and we rely on them to tell us if they think a student is struggling.
“We have to very careful that we don’t offend them. Some haven’t got a lot but they are very proud.
“We try to be very sensitive through their tutors, who ask them if they would like a little bit of help.
“It could be young people who may have just come out of the care system, or they may be completely disengaged from their families. Some of them are homeless, but perhaps staying in a hostel.
“During term-time, we can at least make sure they have a good breakfast, which is free for all students at the college, but we don’t know what happens to them outside of term time.”
The hampers were due to be given out on December 12 and any items donated after that go to charities including The Salvation Army.
Julie said: “I think people forget there are a lot of young people out there at Christmas who just don’t have the family support. It can actually be a lonely and sad time and suicide rates go up.
“The hampers make a real difference and every year I am blown away by the support shown by the staff at the college.”