Caring travel agent team launch annual appeal for homeless at Ellesmere Port store

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A CARING group of travel agents are set to launch their annual appeal for warm clothing to help homeless people through the winter months.

The team from Hays Travel, Ellesmere Port, led my manager Shona Hughes, are asking for donations of clothes including waterproof coats, puffer jackets, warming woollies, socks, underwear, sleeping bags, boots, shoes and trainers in good repair.

Customers and local community members are being encouraged to drop off these items at the travel store in Marina Drive, Ellesmere Port, and they will ensure all donations will be transferred to the Charles Thompson Mission in Birkenhead.

Based in Wirral since 1892, it helps homeless men and women and those struggling to survive through poverty.

The drive to support the mission started in 2015 when branch manager Shona Hughes, who lives in Bebington, wanted to help disadvantaged people in her community.

She said: “When I told the girls in the shop they pitched in to help and brought in items from home such as old coats, and warm clothing. They also went out and bought toiletries to fill shoe boxes, as the mission does a shoe box appeal at Christmas.”

Since then she and her colleagues have swung into action every winter and widened the appeal to ask Hays Travel clients and the public to donate unwanted clothing.

Shona said: “After our first drop off, it made us realise how much people who use the mission need our help. I felt we’d made a difference.

“Now in autumn and winter we advertise the shop as a drop off point for Charles Thompson Mission. We have window posters, issue leaflets in town and communicate via social media.

“We’re always amazed by the huge response we get, not just from regular customers but the community in general. Every year we’ve received more and more donations.

“We’ve found people don’t always have cash to spare but most can dig out clothing and help in a practical way.”

Now in their fourth year, the team are hoping to redouble their efforts in the hope of collecting the biggest number of donations to date.

Shona said: “In the past we’ve collected so many items it’s taken several car loads to transport them to the mission in Birkenhead, so we’re hoping for as big a response again.

“I want to thank everyone who does donate and assure them all their donations go directly to people in need. They make a huge difference in the ability of people to survive the trials of winter.”

Hays Travel Ellesmere Port is part of Hays Travel North West, which asks each of its stores, around 40 branches across North Wales and the north west, to look at supporting a chosen charity every year.

Don Bircham, Hays Travel North West Managing Director, said Shona and her team were a perfect example of the strong bonds which staff in his stores form with important local causes.

He said: “It’s fantastic that the team at Ellesmere Port put the store to such good use every year to support the homeless who need extra help as we look ahead to the winter months.

“It’s a credit to the kind hearts and commitment of Shona and her colleagues that the appeal is such a success every year but I know they would also join me in thanking our customers for also playing a big part in making sure these valuable donations find the right people who really need them.

“It’s heart-warming when you hear about how the appeal has gone from strength to strength every year.

Bernie Frost, manager of Charles Thompson Mission, said there couldn’t be a better time to help, as the users of the mission struggle to survive colder months.

He said: “In desperate cases it can be the difference between life and death. When harsh weather hits we see more health issues, people struggling on the streets or in basic accommodation trying to keep warm with meagre facilities.”

Bernie has been manager for seven years after previously being a volunteer.

He said: “It’s a bitter-sweet role, we see such desperation, heart-breaking instances of people at rock bottom often through no fault of their own. But then we also encounter great generosity.

“It’s emotionally overwhelming sometimes when people like Shona, Hays Travel and the local community get behind us. Despite the bad times it’s uplifting to know there’s such generosity out there.

“It’s strategically helpful, too, when Hays Travel and other groups provide us with satellite drop off points in surrounding locations, like Ellesmere Port. It enables donors who might not normally come to Birkenhead to still give but at venues more local to themselves.”

Bernie said the clothes will be distributed between all mission users, adding: “We need both men’s and women’s items. Things we’re short of include men’s jeans in waist sizes 30-34, and size 9/10 trainers. Many people we help are only slightly built so smaller sizes are always useful.”

Open seven days a week, the mission on Hemingford Street, Birkenhead, operates as a drop in centre for the homeless and needy. It provides food, clothing, blankets, toiletries, pots and pans to homeless or in-need individuals and families just starting out in independent accommodation.

Bernie said: “If someone needs it, we’ll do our best to get it. We have showers for use during our opening hours, doctors, dentists, optician and chiropody services. We’re also here if people need advice, we can point them to rehab, mental health services or other community forums. And an important part of what we do is combatting loneliness – we’re here to listen and chat to.”

About 30 volunteers run the mission which has a waiting list of more potential volunteers keen to help.

Shona and Hays Travel colleagues also make up hampers and run raffles.

She said: “Every bit helps. Over the years we’ve raised £450 from raffles for the mission and we’ll be organising more this winter.”

Details about how to drop off items and support the appeal can be found on the Facebook page for Hays Travel Ellesmere Port. @HaysTravelEllesmerePort

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