CHENICE Balston, 30, is a cleaner and lives in London with her partner and their three-year-old daughter Liliana.
She tells how she finds volunteering at a baby bank to be deeply rewarding.
Opening the box stuffed full of nappies, baby clothes and toys, I felt overwhelmed with relief and gratitude.
It was October 2022 and, after going through lockdown, my partner and I were both out of work and struggling to afford what we wanted for my daughter Liliana, then just two and a half years old.
That box, sent by baby bank charity Little Village, along with a cot and a promise we’d receive another box in three months if we needed it, was the difference between us sinking and thriving as a family.
I was adopted at 18 months old, so my start in life wasn’t the easiest, but I was lucky to have a very happy childhood with my parents, living in London.
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In June 2020, I gave birth to our daughter and I quickly found myself counting the pennies, making sacrifices and opting for more basic items than I had wanted for my little girl.
As I wasn’t working during lockdown, I worried about how we‘d provide for Liliana.
We struggled for two and a half years, until the key worker at the Luminary Bakery charity, which I’d begun volunteering at, referred me to Little Village.
The network of baby banks that supply essentials – including toys, books and clothing – for babies and children up to the age of five, was a lifeline.
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Knowing we had support helped put my mind at ease.
While I never felt any shame in asking for help, I was apprehensive about what to expect.
Far from the worse-for-wear hand-me-downs I was anticipating, Little Village provided high-quality donations, which gave me a sense of dignity.
It was such a warm and welcoming environment, too – it felt like something I could rely on when all else fails.
My mum instilled in me the importance of giving back, so that same month I began volunteering at Little Village for two hours a week.
I know first-hand how important it is and how dependent it is on volunteers.
Every week you’ll find me preparing packages of baby supplies, clothes, toys and equipment for families who need them.
I now work as a cleaner and don’t have to rely on donations myself, but I know it will always be there should I need it.
I’ve seen mums come in with little more than the clothes on their backs, desperate for anything we can give them.
There’s one who sticks in my mind, who came in with the hope of getting a few nappies.
We were able to give her a baby bath, a buggy, a cot – everything she would need – and she just broke down.
It’s heartbreaking to see women like this. That’s why I’m dedicated to volunteering.
Helping mums who don’t have much is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
Little Village is putting together festive bundles of warm clothes, toys and activities to give struggling families a chance of normality and some joy this Christmas.
I feel such satisfaction packing up toys and treats, imagining the smiles on faces on Christmas morning.
The families we help are just the tip of the iceberg – people are really struggling.
My daughter will wake up this Christmas in a warm bed, and spend the day playing with toys and having enough to eat.
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I know, from my work with Little Village, she is one of the lucky ones.
I never expected to find myself relying on a baby bank to care for my family, but now I give back to help other mums like me find their way through the toughest times.”
WHAT ARE BABY BANKS?
Baby banks provide essential items for children up to five living in poverty – like nappies, clothing and toys.
Last year, 4.2 million children in the UK were living in poverty, according to Child Poverty Action Group.
Additionally, Save The Children says 800,000 children lived in a household that used a food or baby bank.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The Sun’s Cosy At Christmas appeal, in partnership with Save The Children, Little Village and baby banks across the UK, aims to bring joy to struggling families.
To get involved, donate clothes, toys and essentials to a baby bank, wherever you are in the UK, or give your time volunteering.
To find your nearest baby bank, scan the QR code.
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