Love Your Neighbour this Christmas - Aberdeen

I don't know what it is about this time of year, but somehow it always makes me reflective and grateful for all that I have. I struggle a little with our consumer society's Christmas excess, but I delight in the message of hope, grace and generosity that is deeply rooted beneath it. 

For me, Christmas is less about the presents under the tree and more about the people around it: it's about precious time with family, sharing good food, enjoying good company and making good memories. I recognise how incredibly blessed I am to be able to rest assured in the knowledge that my Christmas is bound to contain all of that. 

For so many reasons, so many people are just not able to say that. Christmas is a difficult period for many of the people around us. When life is already a daily struggle, Christmas can feel like a bit of a slap. How do you focus on the "joy" of Christmas when your days are consumed by physical or mental ill-health? How do you find time to put up a tree when your bones are weary from constantly caring for someone else? How do you think about Christmas dinner when you don't know where your next meal is coming from? How do you buy your kids a present when you can barely afford to heat your house?   

For those of us fortunate enough not to be asking those questions of ourselves, there are small things we can do this Christmas that just might help. If you're in the position to do so, here are just a few suggestions of things you could do locally this Christmas to bless someone else.. 

Give a Child a Gift 

It's sometimes hard to imagine - living in a country as prosperous as this - just how many kids might go without this Christmas (and I'm sure those numbers are only increasing thanks to the current economic climate!). The thought of any child waking up on Christmas morning with nothing to unwrap genuinely breaks my heart. Thankfully, we can reduce the chances of that happening by picking up and donating an extra gift for a child while we shop. 

The Instant Neighbour Giving Tree Appeal works with local social work departments and other organisations to identify children who might benefit from a gift. Last year they distributed more than 8000 gifts donated by members of the public. To participate, you can pick up a tag specifying a child's age and gender from any of the locations listed on their site (I got mine from the tree upstairs in Union Square), dropping off your purchases at the same locations by December 6th. (See the website for suggested gifts and additional details and please note that gifts should be unwrapped - don't make the same mistake I did!)

Northsound radio's charity - Cash for Kids - also run a similar project titled 'Mission Christmas', with collection points throughout Aberdeenshire and the City.

Make a Food Bank Deposit

It's a sad reality that many people in our community - through no fault of their own - have to rely on the support of food banks to feed themselves at the best of times, never mind at Christmas. These food banks rely on donations from the public to keep their shelves stocked all year round, so why not pick up a few extra supplies next time you're in the supermarket?

We're not talking about elaborate Christmas meals here, but rather basic staples to make up a three-day emergency food kit. Most food banks will take donations of long-life milk; tinned soup, meat, fruit and veg; jars of sauce; rice and pasta; teabags and instant coffee; cereals; sugar; and biscuits; while some will also accept basic toiletries, baby food/formula and cat or dog food.  It's probably best to check with the specific food bank for any no-nos or urgently required items before donating. 

Some of the key providers in Aberdeen, accepting public donations, are: 

Get Active 

Fancy doing something active while raising money for a local charity? Then one of these events might be up your street: 

The joggers among you might be keen for the Aberdeen Santa Run: a one mile or 5km fun run dressed in (yes, you guessed it!) Santa costumes. The event takes place at the Sports Village on Sunday 10th December, with funds going towards the work of CHAS - the Children's Hospice Association Scotland. Participants can register here at a cost of £14 (or £8 for kids), which includes a Christmas medal and your Santa suit and hat! 
Alternatively, perhaps the braver (or dafter) among you might be up for the Nippy Dipper Boxing Day Dip! Held at Aberdeen beach, this annual event sees participants "brushing off the Christmas cobwebs with a refreshing dip in the chilly North Sea!" You can register on the Lions Club website and are encouraged to seek sponsorship for a charity of your choosing, or the Lord Provost's Charitable Trust.

Take the Weight off your Feet

If, on the other hand, you find the Christmas trolley-dash to be quite enough activity, chances are you'll be more in need of a mid-shopping pit-stop for a bite to eat or a quick hit of caffeine. For my final suggestion, why not support those in need this Christmas by marking one of these social enterprises as 'Destination Coffee'?   

In the convenience of the Bon Accord Centre you'll find Tempo - a unique, volunteer-run cafe raising money for CLAN Cancer Support by charging customers for the length of their visit rather than the items consumed.  

At the top (Holburn Street) end of Union Street you'll find Social Bite - a sandwich shop where one in four of the staff are formerly homeless and all profits go to charities tackling homelessness.

Up on Rosemount Place there's Turning Point's 'Rosie's Cafe', serving up breakfasts, lunches, coffees, cakes and afternoon tea, while offering supported employment to people recovering from mental health issues or an acquired brain injury. They also stock a range of cards and gifts - handmade by service users - more of which can be found at their Framers, Crafts and Gift Shop up on Holburn Street.

Likewise, down on Rosemount Viaduct, The Bread Maker offers working roles to people with learning disabilities, serving up their own freshly-made bread products, alongside lunch and coffee; while over on the Beach Boulevard, Inspire's Cafe Coast does much the same.

These are just a few simple ways to be more generous with our time and money this Christmas time. I hope it might inspire you to come up with a few yourself. 


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