Family helps enhance spirit of Christmas

Julie Richardson, of Dunedin, says having children of her own prompted her to spread cheer at Christmas by donating gifts to those less fortunate through the Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal, which she has done for the past 17 years. Photo by Peter Mcintosh.
Julie Richardson, of Dunedin, says having children of her own prompted her to spread cheer at Christmas by donating gifts to those less fortunate through the Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal, which she has done for the past 17 years. Photo by Peter Mcintosh.
Julie Richardson makes a big difference in the lives of Dunedin's littlest each Christmas.

She buys gifts year-round to place under the Kmart Wishing Tree, and this season has given 31 presents to the appeal.

Mrs Richardson said the birth of her twins, James and Breeana, 17 years ago was the catalyst for her generosity.

''Their first Christmas, they were spoilt rotten by friends and family, so I gave some of their presents away because they were so overladen. I don't think it's until you've kids of your own that you realise other kids might not be so well-off, and it all stemmed from there.''

She involved her children in the annual appeal once they were old enough, and said the twins, as teenagers, continued to help choose gifts for Kmart's tree. Mrs Richardson has honed her gift selection skills over the years and stuck to certain criteria, as well as a $7 limit for each item.

''It has to be practical and relevant. I try to find things kids are into. I also try to stay away from family gifts, like games, because I never know where my presents are going and don't want to give a game that needs four people which ends up in a family of two or three.''

She also made sure to insert batteries in toys, if they were not already included.

''There's nothing worse than a kid getting a present they can't play with straight away.''

Mrs Richardson said she often bought things when they were on sale and collected both boys' and girls' gifts for any age between 5 and 13.

''I know myself that teenagers are fussy, and by that age they've kind of outgrown Santa. Christmas really is all about the kids, but I still think it's the best time of year - absolutely!''Finding inexpensive gifts was easy, if you took the time to shop around, she said.

''You can buy really good stuff for under $7 and it makes a big difference to children who don't have much. I often add simple things like colouring pencils and paper to make craft packs, or include bubbles and water balloons to make things a bit more fun.''

To date this season, just over 1000 gifts have been donated to Kmart's Dunedin store in the Meridian mall, and appeal organisers hoped the target of 4500 presents would be reached by Christmas.

The Salvation Army will collect all gifts from the store and distribute them to families throughout Otago on Christmas Eve.

Last year, Otago residents gave 3803 presents through the appeal, which has been held nationwide for the past 19 years.

Presents did not have to be bought from Kmart, or wrapped, and could be handmade.

Cash donations were used to give appeal recipients vouchers.

-rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

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