Our Hayes store's community champion Sam D'Souza pulled out all the stops to organise a magical festive treat for children who are coping with the loss of a loved one this Christmas.
She secured funding from Asda’s charity, the Asda Foundation, and invited children and family members from Halo Children's Foundation to a spectacular ice skating show and party in Marylebone, organising a coach to take the group of 30 children and their families to and from London, as well as laying on face painting, ice skating and treats for the children.
It was first time many of the people from the group had been together since the start of the pandemic, and the charity's founder Alia Jones said it meant so much to her and everyone who was there.
She said: "It really got the festive season off to a great start. We didn't know what to expect. We knew there would be some ice involved, but when we walked in it was a real surprise and totally magical.
"We all had a great time and it made memories for the children which will last a long time. It was the first time that some of the children had ever been ice skating and some of them loved it so much that they've already booked to go again.
"A lot of our children and families haven't met each other before, as because of Covid we've had to move a lot of our activities online, so it was a great opportunity for the children to meet other children going through similar things to them.
"Christmas can be a really difficult time of year for children who've had a bereavement, because they see families together and it brings into focus that their family is different. To have a good day out and the opportunity to make new friends and new memories is a really important thing, so we're really grateful to Asda and Sam for this day, as I know it makes a difference."
This Christmas our community champions like Sam will be helping more people enjoy magical moments together, doing their bit to spread Christmas cheer and celebrate the special festive moments so many people missed last year – and Sam says there could be no more deserving group than Halo.
She said: "I'm so attached to this group because you really see how important their work is and what a difference Asda's support can make.
"It genuinely brought a tear to my eye to see so many smiling faces – it was really heartwarming.
"It's the best part of my job to be able to help groups like Halo and to see that the work I and our other community champions do matters."
Alia founded Halo in 2013 following the sudden death of her partner – the father to her two daughters who were aged just two years and three weeks at the time.
She said: "We offer hope and opportunities to express their loss and create new memories along the way. We can't change what happened but we can help on the journey of dealing with loss. No-one should grieve alone."
Sam's been a passionate supporter of their work since first meeting Alia, and has backed them in a variety of ways – helping with grant applications to the Asda Foundation, helping them get listed on the store's green token giving scheme and providing lots of practical support.
In a happy coincidence, when Sam was awarded the British Empire Medal earlier this year she met Alia at the ceremony as Halo had been given the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service at the same time.
Alia, who's on the right in the picture below, said: "Sam does so much from her role, not just for us but for other groups and organisations, and Asda has been a great support."
Sam says it was wonderful to see all the children and families enjoying themselves at their Christmas surprise.
She said: "Everyone absolutely loved it – it really went down a storm. They were wowed walking up the stairs. You could hear the kids go quiet of a sudden as they took it all in, and it was an 'ah' moment for me too, as everywhere looked stunning. Then you could hear the volume picking up as they were getting excited for seeing the stilt walkers, booking their go on the ice rink, and getting their faces painted.
"It's heartbreaking seeing children who've been bereaved, so now that we're able to start getting out and about I wanted to see them smiling. Lockdown was so tough for many people, but I can only imagine what it was like if you were grieving too.
"One of the mums said to me that she didn't think her child would be up to coming right until the last minute because their bereavement is still quite recent, but that everything just clicked and they had such a good time for getting out.
"Alia gave a really nice speech saying thank you and all the kids were cheering and clapping. It really is what Christmas is all about."
To find out more about Halo's work supporting children through bereavement go to: https://www.halochildrensfoundation.org.uk/