In Australia alone, there are over 235,000 children and teenagers who have taken on caring for a family member with a disability. These adult responsibilities mean they often miss out on many of the joys of childhood that most kids take for granted.
This Christmas, Margaret Skagias has decided to take matters into her own hands and bring some festive cheer to these young carers who often miss out.
Margaret’s charity, CaringKids, creates and delivers ‘Joy Boxes’ filled with children’s toys to carers aged 5 to 17 years old year-round. But she tells The Greek Herald that the boxes are extra special this Christmas because of the hardships and lockdowns people have had to endure this year.
“We do make Christmas for kids all year round because children who are young carers are caring every day of the week. There are no holidays. If someone in your family is not well, it doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas, it doesn’t matter if it’s school holidays, the caring role that people have in the family is every day,” Margaret says.
“So, at this time of the year, I think it is really important to celebrate children who give their love and their time and care to somebody else and to recognise them for all their efforts throughout the year.”
Take for example 14-year-old Ben and 11-year-old Annabelle. They have a little three-year-old sister, Cosette, who has been in hospital for most of her life. The siblings play an important role in Cosette’s life, caring for her and supporting their mum.
When they received their Joy Boxes from CaringKids, they couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces and Margaret says that’s the biggest reward of all.
“The kids always get shocked and surprised but many of them ask, ‘Why? Why did I get this? Why did this person take the time?’,” Margaret says.
“It’s a good experience for parents to sit with them and explain that they are so proud of them that they helped look after the person in their family who is not well, and that they are really amazing and we’ve noticed them and they should enjoy some time for themselves too.”
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Of course, it must be noted that none of this is possible without the support of individuals, the local community and corporate groups who collect and donate new toys, games, stationery, art and craft materials and sport equipment to CaringKids to be included in the Joy Boxes.
One such individual was Despina Biniares who read about CaringKids in The Greek Herald recently and was spurred into action to donate hundreds of new children’s toys to the charity.
Despina and a friend of hers once had a small business called ‘Cheeky Little Monkey,’ which distributed innovative products and toys to retailers such as Toys R Us. When Toys R Us went into receivership and administration, their final order was cancelled and Despina was left with hundreds of toys in storage for almost two years.
“The stock sort of sat there for a while and you know… we talk about connection and social media and networking platforms, so I follow your newspaper. I religiously buy it for my mum every single day,” Despina tells The Greek Herald.
“I follow [The Greek Herald] on Instagram and I was just browsing through and I had seen your article feature about CaringKids and about Margaret and I thought to myself, ‘I can see the synergy. I can see that these products need to go to these guys.’
“I think the timing was all perfect as well because we were getting ready for Christmas.”
Since then, all of Despina’s brand new toys have been packed into Joy Boxes by a team of dedicated volunteers at a new warehouse in Banksmeadow, which is reminiscent of Santa’s workshop.
One of these volunteers is Jo Moses who does a lot of the administration work at Caring Kids. She processes toy orders as they come in and makes sure they’re recorded properly so that when it comes time to pack the Joy Boxes, volunteers know to include toys relevant to the child’s age, gender and any special interests.
She tells The Greek Herald she loves volunteering at CaringKids and encourages others to donate more toys and help out.
“I was looking for a volunteer opportunity closer to home but I didn’t want anything that was meaningless. I wanted something that I found I could relate to having had children once,” Ms Moses says.
“It’s a really worthwhile cause.”