On a Friday afternoon in late November and tucked away in a church hall at Puente Don Manuel in the Axarquía, I found a group of ten volunteers putting together bags of Barbie and baby dolls with assorted clothing and accessories. Surrounded by toys, and of course cups of tea, they really did look like helpers in Santa's grotto.
The volunteers form part of the Axarquía Supporters of Los Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche. The project was the brainchild of Axarquía resident Janet Hassall who, together with her team, spends all year collecting and making gifts to give the children whose families rely on the food given out by the Malaga-based charity. They have been running the group project for four years and now donate about 150 dolls to the charity.
"It came from the idea of no child without a toy. I went to see what you could actually buy a child with say five euros and the answer was, very little, especially for girls," explained Janet.
The initiative has grown over the years and volunteers as well as their families and friends send dolls, clothes and accessories that they find in charity shops in Spain and the UK, or donate ones that their own children or grandchildren no longer play with. Many even knit, sew or crochet doll's clothes.
That Friday the team were busy putting together the bags, which are also handmade by volunteers, in which one Barbie, or similar, is put along with four changes of outfit and an accessory. Each volunteer is given a list of items which are duly ticked off as they go in the bag. "It's a great excuse for the ladies who volunteer to relive their childhood," said Janet, smiling.
The team also collects clothes, toiletries and other items to go to Los Ángeles Malagueños and this week 144 pairs of socks, 132 pairs of gloves, 72 hats and 192 pairs of pants have also been sent thanks to a donation from the Nerja 41 Club. These were collected through a campaign which includes clever straplines like 'Sockit to the homeless' or 'It's pants being homeless'.
In addition, over 200 toiletry bags with toothpaste, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and so on, also donated by or bought with money raised by the Axarquía team, have gone to the city.
The dolls are given to children, along with other presents donated to the charity, on Kings' Day, but the operation starts before then. Children of the families who use the service write their letters to the Three Kings and they are delivered to Los Ángeles Malagueños, who try to make sure that all the children get the presents they asked for, where possible. Tamara Essex, who is a volunteer, explained that on Kings' Day there is a carrier bag, marked with their name, for each child, as well as extra toys for those who did not send a letter so that nobody goes away empty-handed.
That church hall in Puente Don Manuel in late November really was full of the true spirit of Christmas.