"Dear Father Christmas. Can you help?”
A 7-year-old girl in Liverpool, England, has reportedly written a pleading letter to Father Christmas — asking for food and shelter for her family over the festive season.
It’s a heartbreaking note that touches on a devastating societal ill in the UK.
The handwritten letter was dropped into a special postbox at L6 Community Centre in Everton, Liverpool, left for children to send off their Christmas wishes to Santa Claus. A photo of the letter was then posted to social media, and has since gone viral.
"Can we have a home for Christmas? Mam wants us to be all together,” the girl writes. “Can you give us some food and can I have just a nice doll for Christmas? Thank you."
The @L6Centre found this letter in their 'Santa Postbox' from a 7-year-old girl to Father Christmas asking for a house and food.— BBC Radio Merseyside (@bbcmerseyside) November 19, 2019
The centre is predicting they'll be even busier than last year helping vulnerable local families. Picture: @GerardWoodhous1pic.twitter.com/XTWbocV29J
Last year, it was estimated that 1 million children in the UK were at risk of “holiday hunger” — the term used to describe the malnutrition and food poverty that can occur on breaks from school — because children who would have had access to free meals at school didn’t have an equivalent when they came home for Christmas.
"I know the children, and it's not right that a 7-year-old child is worrying about Christmas," councillor Gerard Woodhouse told the BBC. He was the one who first opened the letter, and described it as “so upsetting to read."
"It's only going to get worse," Woodhouse said. "A few weeks ago we were sitting down with a few of the kids from the centre. One child said, 'I just want to be warm this Christmas.'”
"These kids know their parents have not got the money this year for presents,” he added. "We are seeing first hand how difficult it is, and it is just so upsetting."
The Social Metrics Commission estimates that there are 4.6 million children living in poverty in the UK, while the Food Foundation reports that more than 8 million people struggle to put food on the table.
Last year, the Trussell Trust — the UK’s largest network of food banks — distributed 1,583,000 food packages to people in need. It’s seen a 73% rise in the number of food parcels it has needed to deliver over the past five years. And in Merseyside, the North Liverpool food bank has seen an increased usage of 40% in the last year alone.
“Right now, we know teachers will say to us, we’ve got children who we need to put a little bit of food aside in the cupboard because they've not eaten in the morning — we know that these children will find it harder to concentrate,” Victoria Ponsonby, development coordinator at the food bank, told the Liverpool Echo. “But as for the long term nutritional issues facing children in poverty — I don’t think we are going to see the true consequences until 10 years down the line."
The 7-year-old girl’s letter has since sparked an immense wave of goodwill — and the community centre is reportedly now trying to put her family in a hotel room on Christmas Day.
"We have been inundated with support from volunteering hours to food, to new toys, donations on our JustGiving page, cheques, and cash,” said Shirley Marshall from L6 Community Centre. "We are overwhelmed and will support this family along with many other deprived families this Christmas."