STAFF and volunteers have urgently relaunched their annual Christmas appeal after finding themselves 'significantly down' on donations.

Every year, the Salvation Army in Darlington spends the festive season collecting gifts and toys from the public to give to disadvantaged children on Christmas day.

For many children, what they receive from this appeal is the only gift they will open on December 25 and volunteers work tirelessly in the weeks leading up to the big day to ensure no youngster is left out.

Year on year, the appeal has seen a steady increase in donations - last year the Salvation Army citadel was overwhelmed with around 700 gifts.

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However, this year, volunteers have said their appeal has received a significantly smaller response.

Salvation Army minister Shirley McKenzie, who organises the appeal, said staff and volunteers are now anxious they will not be able to meet their demand, meaning hundreds of children may wake up on Christmas day disappointed.

She said: "We don’t know why we haven’t had the big response we normally do.

“We collect about 600 to 700 worth of toys, and what we have at the moment isn’t quite what we would usually hope for.

"We know that there are people and businesses who are out there collecting for us, but we just don't have physical goods we would usually have at this point in previous years.

“We don’t want to disappoint any children but at this point we're staring to think, 'will this actually happen?'"

As in previous years, where poverty-stricken families have been reminded that they are not forgotten when residents dig deep for the appeal, the Salvation Army are desperately calling for the public's help to shower youngsters around the town with gifts and treats.

Following its introduction last year, the appeal also encompasses festive hampers, with businesses and individuals encouraged to donate tasty treats and festive foods or pay £25 to sponsor a hamper.

Shirley McKenzie added: “This appeal really important. Families really struggle to put together gifts at this time of year and for children to have nothing on Christmas morning, it must be devastating.

“Christmas is about family, love and giving and we want to be able to give them that at Christmas time. If we can help families to be a happy family at Christmas then our job is done."

Donations can be made until December 14 to the Salvation Army headquarters, on Thompson Street East, between 10am and 12pm Monday to Saturday, or to Sainsburys on Victoria Road, Footprints in Skinnergate, Asda on Whinfield Road and North Road Morrisons.

For more information or advice on gifts for each age group, call 01325 380994