Pupils at a secondary school in Barking have been going out of their way to help local elderly people this Christmas – so our nearby Dagenham store’s community champion Gemma Gray arranged a special surprise for them so they can do even more.
She helped the students from Barking Abbey Secondary School host a Christmas party for 100 pensioners before presenting teaching assistnt Leanne Ramsden and assistant special educational needs coordinator Lauren Casey, who helped organise the event, with a £2,000 Asda Foundation grant.
The money will be used to organise another get-together for the pensioners at Easter, as well as treating them to fish and chips.
Lauren said: “Senior citizens don’t necessarily have a good image of what a young person is like when they see bad things on the news and it’s easy to tar everyone with the same brush. But at this event they all said how great and kind they were and were so thankful, and I think that’s really important.
“I’m very proud of the students. It was a really emotional day, particularly as some of the students are young carers who don’t have the easiest time of things. They might be looking after a mum with cancer or looking after a grandparent and it’s nice to see that even though they have other things to contend with they’re still willing to give something back.
“We’ve got all different cultures and religions here and even though some of them don’t celebrate Christmas themselves they’re demonstrating what this time of year is all about."
Gemma, who's pictured on the left here with teaching assistant Leanne and Lauren (right), first volunteered with the school last Christmas.
“It’s nice to know that someone’s in your corner from outside the school and working with Asda does really help," said Lauren.
“This donation was a massive shock to me, and the students were really taken aback too – they immediately started asking if it means we can do more.”
Guests at the party were greeted by the school's choir singing carols before enjoyed a three-course festive meal and raffle.
Gemma said: "It was absolutely excellent – everyone had a pukka time. One of the guests said he was so glad he'd come because it was the best Christmas event he'd ever been to and he couldn't wait for next year's event! That was so lovely to hear and it's why I love my job.
"It also helps show the local community how great these kids are and how they're prepared to get involved with the local community in a really positive way.”
Take a look at some pictures from the day in here: