Kirkcaldy’s Cottage Centre spreading a little Christmas cheer

Annual Christmas Appeal: Pauline Buchan with Tony Letham, age 15 months and staff. Picture by Fife Photo Agency.

Annual Christmas Appeal: Pauline Buchan with Tony Letham, age 15 months and staff. Picture by Fife Photo Agency.

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It’s that time of year again when everyone’s thoughts start to turn to Christmas and what to buy the family.

But, for many in Kirkcaldy struggling just to make ends meet, it will be a time of dread and stress.

Parents will go without food to scrape together enough to buy a much-wanted gift, while others face a festive season with little to be merry about as the bills pile up.

That’s where the Cottage Family Centre in Templehall hopes to help out.

And it is asking local businesses and people who are able to to dig deep to help relieve the pressure on some of those families struggling to cope.

“It’s not a case of providing a few gifts to make Christmas nicer for families,” explained Pauline Buchan, service manager at the Cottage.

“What we are talking about is providing the basic necessities – a kind of survival pack to see some of the most vulnerable families over the Christmas period and try to take away a bit of the pressure so their children can have a Christmas a bit more like their classmates will enjoy, with food on the table, some warm clothes in houses where they can have the heating on for a few hours.

“We have been doing these appeals for five years now and each year I think it can’t get any worse, yet each year it does.

“We give out winter coats to children each year and, going by the numbers of these we have given out, as well as help to provide basic things like a bed for a child to sleep in, food parcels and emergency help like this, our numbers are going to increase drastically again this year.

“And this is not just families which are living on benefits, but also those where one or even both parents are working, yet there is less than nothing to spare at the end of the month.

“We are seeing more and more families where there are problems with mental health issues and, in this area, our statistics show over 80 per cent of the parents we are dealing with here have some form of mental health issues, ranging from depression and anxiety to more serious problems.

“A lot of this stems from poverty and deprivation, wondering where the next meal is going to come from and not having enough to feed your family.

“The tax credit cuts have had a tremendous impact and if there are more to come in the future, I don’t know what will happen.”

Pauline and her team of dedicated staff are extremely grateful to the many shops, businesses and individuals who have helped them over the years, many from the outset, including Tesco, Matthew Brothers, Radio Forth and Tullis Russell.

“We had the double whammy of both Tullis Russell closing and Tesco leaving Kirkcaldy, and I was really panicking about how we would cope this year but, luckily, Tesco in Dunfermline has stepped in to continue its support, as some of the staff from Kirkcaldy went to work there,” said Pauline.

“This year we have also had the support of Digby Brown solicitors, which made us its charity of the year.”

Pauline also said she and her staff rely heavily on the volunteers who turn out each year to lend a hand with assembling the hundreds of packs and helping to deliver them to the families’ homes.

“It is a huge task which this year we will be doing on the Wednesday before Christmas, and it is run like a military operation,” she explained.

“We are always completely exhausted afterwards, but to see the relief on the parents’ faces and the joy on the faces of the children on Christmas Day makes it all worthwhile.”

The Cottage provides different packs to the various families, with some only requiring food and others receiving clothing and gifts too.

The food packs, which are designed to last for around 10 days over the Christmas period, include a steak pie, fresh fruit and vegetables, a butcher’s pack with sausage, bacon and mince, milk, bread and other perishable and non-perishable goods.

Pauline explained: “We used to give them a turkey, and some still do get one, but we discovered many of the families did not have a proper cooker to cook them in, and only had a microwave. At least if we give them a steak pie, then they are able to heat it through and they will be able to enjoy a hot meal on Christmas Day.

“That is the reason we started doing this Christmas Appeal each year, because myself and my staff and management committee could not bear the thought of children not being able to enjoy even the basics of a Christmas celebration.

“By giving out these parcels, we can take a bit of pressure off the parents over the festive period.”