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Bear hugs and surprise gifts give children battling health issues a lift in lockdown

Bear hugs and surprise gifts give children battling health issues a lift in lockdown

Struggling children are receiving a lockdown lift - and bear hugs -  thanks to a major effort to bring joy to youngsters battling serious health issues.

Surprise gift boxes, bespoke well-being treat packs brimming with goodies, are being delivered to deserving youngsters across the East Midlands and beyond. And each one includes a cute teddy with a gift tag message, ‘While real hugs are limited, here is a bear to hug’.

The treats are the brainchild of Derbyshire-based charity me&dee which is reaching   out to help the many families it supports. Normally, they would be enjoying special times together at its Sherwood Forest Hideaway holiday lodge in Nottinghamshire but it’s had to close temporarily due to the pandemic.

So, in an effort to cheer youngsters fighting illness in lockdown, 100 surprise packs have been made. So far, 22 families and 49 children have received gifts. Most are coping with hospice, hospital or cancer care. The packs are being distributed for free by volunteers and plans are under way to fund more.

As well as giving children a lift, they’re filled with activities to battle boredom at a time when they can rarely leave their homes or play with other youngsters.

One girl who loves her bear-hug teddy is six-year-old Charley Strickland, from Castle Donington, Leicestershire. She has diabetes insipidus, a rare condition which means her body cannot balance its fluid levels, and tumours. She goes to sleep cuddling the teddy she discovered in her bag of treats.

Her mum, Julia Strickland, a service advisor from Castle Donington, said: “Charley has been having chemotherapy for three years so lockdown has been hard for her, especially with no siblings or children her own age to play with. Things like this make her feel special.”

Another  recipient, Taylor Lewsley, six, from Ilkeston, Derbyshire, was diagnosed with meningitis when he was a baby. His mum, full-time carer Terri  Lewsley, 28,  was over the moon when me&dee founder Maria Hanson and charity development director Mark Harrison arrived with his surprise gift.

Terri said: “Taylor had meningitis when he was eight months old and gets fed up sometimes. What with hospital appointments, 82 operations in five years, never mind the whole lockdown situation and being stuck at home, it’s a lot to deal with! So he was really happy to receive a surprise. It put a massive smile on his face - especially the bear-hug teddy.”

Maria Hanson, MBE,  said: “We wanted to do something special to help families during these difficult times. For children facing health issues, living in an uncertain, isolated world can make life even harder.

“Normally our families, people who are going through a difficult time due to a life-limiting condition suffered by a child or parent, would be enjoying precious moments together at our Sherwood Forest Hideaway.

“But unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the lodge is closed. Once it reopens it’s booked up until the end of the year. In the meantime, we felt we had to do something to help families whose holiday with us had been cancelled or delayed. We also wanted to support new families recommended to us who we have not had chance to help yet due to the Covid crisis.”

As well as the teddies, the bags of treats, which take into account age, gender and abilities, include paint-your-own bird feeder and make-a-windchime kits; flower seeds; a notebook for sharing feelings and a hot chocolate and biscuits treat for the whole family.

“Who wouldn’t want a bear hug?” said Maria. “We’ve including items to entertain children in a positive way. Though stuck at home, they can still grow flowers and feed the birds.  We also wanted to provide something the whole family could enjoy together, hence the hot chocolate and biscuits.

“We’re had some fantastic feedback  from delighted families and we will be working hard to deliver surprise gift boxes to as many children as possible, all thanks to our amazing volunteers and supporters.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to receive a start-up Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) grant which, together with invaluable support from Midlands businesses The Butler’s Pantry, Pennline, Essential Print Services and Embello, has enabled this project to get off the ground.

“Its success is easy to see. The first 100 gift boxes are covered by the grant but we would love to supply more as we’re receiving dozens of requests. If anyone can offer me&dee sponsorship or support, we would love to hear from them.”

Gift packs have been delivered to children in Chaddesden and Littleover, Derby; Alfreton, Long Eaton, Shelton Lock and Ilkeston in Derbyshire; Burton, Tutbury and Tamworth in Staffordshire; Castle Donington, Loughborough, Leicester, Whitwick, Ellistown and Thringstone in Leicestershire and Warwick in Warwickshire.

To find out more about me&dee, or offer support, please call 01332 297011 or visit www.meanddee.co.uk.


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