The ELBA Toy Appeal 2020: Generosity shines through

Despite almost 30 years of the ELBA Toy Appeal, 2020’s appeal is one that will be engraved in our memories for a long time. The annual event sees employees from the City and Canary Wharf donate toys to children in east London and Islington living in deprivation. We are pleased to share that despite the pandemic, 2020’s appeal was the biggest one ever! Over 22,000 toys were donated; more than double our previous record. With the help from our donors and volunteers, we were able to put a smile on thousands of children’s faces, something that was very much needed after a difficult year.

COVID-19 has had a significant effect on the lives of children; illness of parents and caretakers, school closures, not being able to see friends and extended family and reduced household income left many parents and their children worrying about the future. In some areas of east London, over 50% of children live in poverty and these households have been hit hardest by the pandemic. A small gift during these times not only brings a bit of happiness to a child, but also a sense of normality and community which fuels hope. It also takes the pressure off parents struggling financially who may worry how to provide a gift for their children. One parent said:


“With so little happening for young children due to the pandemic I was feeling isolated and concerned my child was missing out on so much. It what a lovely surprise to be invited to collect a gift. When we arrived, we were made to feel special and given a bag of goodies which were great to keep us busy over the long closure period.”

Toys donated to the appeal are distributed to community organisations working with families facing hardship such as domestic abuse refuges, food banks, hospital wards and children’s centres. One community organisation spoke about other families affected by COVID-19:

“We were able to provide toys for a group of families who have no recourse to public funds and who were stuck in a hotel funded by the council because of COVID. They had lots of children between them but had no belongings. These lovely new toys were a wondrous gift for them in these difficult circumstances.”

The appeal would not be possible without the support of ELBA’s corporate partners and we were overwhelmed by the generosity of the companies and employees that donated. This year we welcomed new donors such as Mattel, Burberry, RGA, Park Pictures and Brookfield properties alongside long standing supporters such as UBS, HSBC and Credit Suisse. UBS and its employees have always been the biggest contributor to the ELBA Toy Appeal and this year was no exception. Their employees raised almost £45,000 to spend on toys, a portion of which was spent at local independent retailers. This incredible contribution was a major factor in making this year’s appeal the biggest ever. Nick Wright, Managing Director, Global & EMEA Community Affairs at UBS, told us why they support the ELBA Toy Appeal:

“In a year that posed challenges for us all, it was the most vulnerable families in our communities that were hit hardest by the pandemic. This is why UBS felt it was vital to continue to provide donations and support to the ELBA Toy Appeal. The Appeal not only brings joy to young people and their families – but helps us all feel connected, even when we are physically apart. It is our longstanding commitment to our community, one which is embedded in our culture, which led UBS employees to give so generously.  We are proud to be the biggest supporter of the ELBA Toy Appeal.”

A special thanks must also go to Canary Wharf Group who provided a retail unit in Jubilee Place shopping centre to host our grotto. Their support with logistics allowed us to distribute the 22,000 toys to 92 community organisations; more than ever before! The retail unit also meant that members of the public could visit the grotto and drop off toys, something we’ve never been able to do before. In another demonstration of generosity, passers-by added an extra gift to their Christmas shopping and contributed over 800 toys to the appeal. Emma Warden, Associate Director of CSR and Community at Canary Wharf Group said:

“With the country going back into lockdown in November we were concerned that much valued appeals such as the ELBA Toy Appeal may struggle to reach their usual audience at a time when the demand was higher than ever. The feedback from members of the public has been fantastic, people who may not have been able to participate in the past through a workplace were able to support the project too. We are thrilled our support has gone some way to support the biggest appeal to date and make such a difference to local people who need it.”

Running one of the biggest toy appeals during a challenging time would not have been possible without the support of volunteers. Over the course of 4 weeks, corporate volunteers from companies like S&P Global joined community volunteers to help us in the grotto as Santa’s elves; taking deliveries, sorting, picking, wrapping and loading the toys ready for distribution. With many Christmas parties being cancelled this year, volunteers added a special festive touch by writing letters from Santa which accompanied the toys. Katie Panayi from BUPA volunteered in the grotto and shared why they support the cause:

“Life for families in the poorest communities in London was hard enough before the pandemic hit. With the economic downturn and everything else the pandemic has thrown at them, parents shouldn’t have the heart breaking task of explaining to their children why Father Christmas visited their friends but not them. It’s so important for those of us lucky enough to be in employment and enjoy the certainty of a Merry Christmas to help those that may not be so fortunate during this difficult time.”

After a tough year for many, the Toy Appeal has become a symbol of people’s kindness in adversity. While it’s easy to celebrate the success and scale of the appeal, the sad reality is that if it wasn’t for the ELBA Toy Appeal there would have been thousands of children who would not have received a gift at Christmas.  Many of these east London and Islington families are already struggling through financial hardship which has been exacerbated by the consequences of the pandemic. In 2021, ELBA wants to build on the success of the appeal and continue to support these families with the backing and generosity of its corporate partners.

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