Welsh football fans delivered hundreds of toys on Saturday to a west London charity that has been supporting families affected by the Grenfell fire.
The Merthyr FC fans descended upon Harrow Borough FC’s clubhouse at Earlsmead Stadium before the home game and came laden with boxes, bags and rubble sacks full of toys.
The Christmas present appeal was organised by lifelong Merthyr FC supporters, Mark Evans, 51, and Richard Bennett, 36, who were both decked out in Christmas jumpers.
Mr Evans, sporting a beard festooned with baubles said: “It started with a couple of toys here and there, then all of a sudden schools were involved. The Newport section of DHL drivers put money in and gave toys as well. Local communities got involved. It just grew and grew and now Amie can’t carry it all home.”
The generosity did not stop at Merthyr. A Gwent primary school group called ‘the mini officers’ donated toys, the City of Liverpool FC gave £150 and social change movement called Non-League 4 Grenfell donated footballs.
It was meeting Non-League 4 Grenfell founder, Andrew Hughes-Boynton, 25, at an away game in Blackpool that inspired the Merthyr supporters to donate to Grenfell.
Mr Hughes-Boynton grew up in Hide Tower block in Pimlico and said: “Grenfell really resonated with me. Football is one place where you can get hundreds or thousands of people together in one place, at one time on a Saturday at 3 o’clock. So it’s a great way to get people involved and reach the wider community.”
This was seconded by a fairy light strewn Mr Bennett, who said: “Christmas means family and community. Football brings us together in ecstasy and enjoyment and having a laugh. But it also brings us together in grief. It brings out the best in people.”
Mr Evans explained Merthyr can relate to the Grenfell tragedy as the town was ravaged by the 1996 Aberfan spoil tip which claimed the lives of 144 people, including 116 children.
Established in 2007, Solidarity Sports has become a central support for families affected by 2017’s Grenfell tragedy and the donated toys will be distributed among the charity’s 150 active families.
The charity’s head of family support Amie Cripps, 27, said: “I’ve already given some toys to a mother and she said ‘I can’t wait to see their faces on Christmas day’. It’s really cheesy, you hear about these things happening over Christmas, but it really is a Christmas miracle.”
Ms Cripps also likens Grenfell to 1989’s Hillsborough Disaster, commenting: “Aberfan had a tragedy. Hillsborough had a tragedy. Grenfell had a tragedy. People are slowly starting to realise the lack of justice. We lost 3 of our kids and their families in Grenfell. We work with families that were living in a hotel for over a year. As a charity we do what we’ve always done, support the children who need it most.”
Solidarity Sports will distribute the toys between the domestic violence charity Hestia’s South Kensington refuge, charity organisation Grenfell United and their own members.
Ms Cripps said: “We can’t take away that memory, that tragedy. But the fact that you’ve got people who are 160 miles away donating toys to our kids as though we’re neighbours is just incredible. For our kids, it’s not just about having the presents. It’s about knowing that people are thinking of them and remembering them at this time of year.”
Feature image shows Richard Bennett (left) Mark Evans.