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Roker Report’s Christmas Fundraiser: Thank you for caring

Thank you all for donating, sharing and just being absolute legends. Last week, we asked you to make a difference - and make a difference you have, in the way that only the people of Sunderland could.

In the last ten days, more than £15,000 has been donated, we’ve managed to reach over a million people on Twitter alone and almost 10,000 of you have listened to our podcast with Andrea Bell. Thanks to your generosity, Andrea and her amazing team will be starting 2021 with a spring in their step and will be able to help even more people.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the North East has the highest rate of destitution in the UK. (https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/destitution-uk-2020) and it is estimated that 36% of children in Sunderland live in poverty. (https://www.nechildpoverty.org.uk/).

And things are only going to go from bad to worse. The pandemic has affected every industry to some extent over the past year. The economic consequences will be felt for several years to come and people with the lowest incomes will be impacted the most.

This is why we need to keep on raising funds and awareness - it’s a Christmas fundraiser, but it’s a year round problem.

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At Roker Report, we’re not experts on poverty or its impact on our city. We’re not even football experts, even though many of us like to think we are. We’re lads and lasses of different ages, from different backgrounds, often with very little in common apart from a shared passion for the same football team.

We didn’t start fundraising because we’re particularly charitable (as anyone who listens to our player ratings podcasts will know) or because this was an issue we were all particularly clued-up on. On the contrary, this all started because most of us had no idea about hunger and poverty in the UK.

For the majority of us who watched the harrowing Dispatches documentary that was broadcast last November (Growing up Poor: Britain’s Breadline Kids), it was a real eye-opener. We were shocked. More than shocked - we were fuming. A lot of the anger was rightly directed towards a society and political system that has allowed this problem to even exist. However, a lot of the anger and guilt was directed towards ourselves for being so oblivious to the problem.

The idea to get involved with Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen wasn’t meticulously planned and thoroughly researched. It was a knee-jerk reaction. We picked a couple of relevant local charities, set up a GoFundMe page, donated among our group and then shared the page.

What happened next was unbelievable. It made us realise that we weren’t the only ones who were shocked and appalled by the state of our country. It made us realise that we weren’t the only ones who wanted to help the people in our city.

Then, as we learned more about Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen and their work, we realised we could and should to do more. After getting to know Andrea Bell, we were totally on board and determined help. Andrea’s enthusiasm is a thousand times more infectious than any virus.

For the lads who went to see her and her team in action, it was a humbling experience. There she was, a volunteer working her socks off, coordinating a massive team of volunteers and providing three-course meals for over a hundred people.

Yet, she was thanking Roker Report and making us out to be the heroes, when we most certainly weren’t. All we did was set up a fundraising page and posted a few things on social media – the Sunderland supporters and the incredible people of Sunderland and beyond performed the heroics. Thanks to their generosity, the Christmas 2019 appeal raised over £10,000 for the Soup Kitchen.

While we never dreamed that we would ever get close to that figure again, we knew we had to make this an annual fundraiser. No debate - we just completely bought into Andrea’s way of doing things, her plans going forward and her general philosophy. She’s all about having high standards in everything she does, treating people with dignity and kindness and, above all, making people feel valued.

If Lee Johnson ever needs anyone to give his players a motivational pep talk, he should give Andrea a ring. She would have the whole squad feeling 10 feet tall, ready to run through brick walls just to put a smile on the faces of the people of Sunderland.

This Christmas, Andrea was very keen to stress that the awareness is raised is just as important as the funds raised. Considering how tough a year this has been for so many people, the response has been mind-blowing. Both in terms of raising funds and in terms of raising awareness, we’ve exceeded our expectations. But we know we can do more.

The more money we raise now, the less time Andrea and her team will have to spend worrying about fundraising. Meaning they’ll have more time to focus on doing what they do best – helping people in so many different ways.

It’s not just the meals they provide that people rely on. Another aspect of the pandemic that really shouldn’t be underestimated is the impact that it is having on people’s mental health.

Social distancing, staying indoors, not being able to see family and friends, etc – it’s tough for everyone. It’s not easy for people with money in the bank, food in the fridge and friends and family a phone call away. It’s hard to imagine how tough it is for people who are struggling financially, going hungry or feeling completely alone.

That’s where the work of the Community Soup Kitchen is absolutely priceless. They care deeply about the people they help, they get to know them, and they make them feel cared for. Whether it’s a chat with the driver who drops off the meals, or a phone call from one of the volunteers just to check in, or an unexpected Christmas present – these seemingly small things make a huge difference. Just knowing that there is someone out there who is looking out for you and who cares about you – that’s a big deal.

So with only a week to go until the big day, why not add the following things to your to-do-list:

Once again, a huge festive thank you to everyone who has contributed and helped spread the message.