A CHARITY appeal set up to ensure poverty-hit youngsters in Darlington do not go without presents on Christmas Day is close to hitting its fundraising target.

Salvation Army bosses have been collecting donations of toys and cash in lieu of presents for over a month.

Captain Colin Bradshaw, commanding officer of Darlington Citadel, in Thompson Street East, who is co-ordinating the appeal, said it was about three-quarters of the way towards its £8,000 target.

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He said: “The response has been very, very good so far. I am getting information from social services, so we do not know how many children we will be helping yet.

“We have got about £6,000 in toys and donations so far, so we are on target to meet the needs of every child that is referred to us.”

Capt Bradshaw said the youngsters and their families helped by the appeal are “the poorest of the poor”, many who have been referred to the charity in harrowing circumstances.

He said: “You would not believe it. I have been dealing with one group that has come this way from another part of England, fearing they will be killed if people if they find out where they are. It is so dangerous.

“My goal is to make sure that the children have Christmas presents and the family has food.

“It is an awful situation and it helps to be able to give them something.”

Capt Bradshaw said donations would still be welcomed right up to Christmas and beyond.

He added: “I would say we need money now, more than toys, as I will be going out to buy presents for children in emergency cases and they could be anything from babies to teenagers.

“People can donate at any point, there is no cut-off point.

“Last year, I was doing Christmas work on Boxing Day – that was children that had to be put in a safe place and we made sure that they had some form of normality in the form of Christmas presents.”

Capt Bradshaw backed organisations – such as shops and other charities – that have launched their own similar appeals, saying: “It can only be of benefit.”

To donate, contact the charity on 01325-380994, or visit darlingtonsalvationarmy.org.uk or email darlingtonsalvationarmy@hotmail.co.uk