Gifts that made Christmas 'brighter'

Thousands of donated presents made Christmas special for many Otago families struggling this holiday season.

About 3000 gifts were placed under the Kmart wishing tree in Dunedin by 7pm on Christmas Eve, and distributed throughout the region by Salvation Army staff and volunteers.

It was hoped the annual appeal would generate 4500 gifts in Otago this year, but organisers were still thrilled with the generosity shown by so many.

Kmart Dunedin employee and wishing tree champion Dawn Barnes-Gardner said items donated at the Meridian mall store included handmade crafts and toys.

''We've had some beautiful handmade quilts and pillows, and some amazing wooden toys from people down the [Otago] Peninsula. Lush has been very generous and given heaps of stuff, it's been amazing,'' she said.

Mrs Barnes-Gardner thanked everyone who gave to the appeal.

''We do appreciate each and every gift someone's taken the time to place under the tree. Someone's Christmas will have been a little bit brighter because of that,'' she said.

Last year 3803 presents were collected at the Dunedin store, although that number included more than 1000 items donated by a single business.

''If you consider that, then this year's effort is really fantastic,'' Mrs Barnes-Gardner said.

She and fellow staff had noticed many families giving presents for the first time, and also a lot of people leaving more than one gift under the tree.

''It's been phenomenal,'' she said.

Nationally the appeal had been running for 19 years, and it was hoped 40,000 gifts would be distributed to families in need this Christmas.

A week out from the appeal deadline about 20,000 items had been given throughout the country.

Salvation Army secretary for social services Major Pam Waugh said the organisation was grateful for the generosity of New Zealanders who had donated, as there were more families than ever before needing support.

More than 350,000 presents had been donated and distributed through the appeal.

Kmart New Zealand general manager Sue Smith said it was an important activity of which the business was proud.

''Waking up on Christmas Day and knowing you've made a difference is a wonderful feeling and our entire Kmart team can attest to this,'' she said.

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