• Left to right: Gary Pitt (Gentoo Volunteer), Alison Humphrey (Barclays), Paul Finch, Hetton Food Bank, Margaret Scanlin, Hetton Food Bank and Gary Wallace (Gentoo Volunteer).

Gentoo gives the best gift of all

STAFF at Gentoo are giving the best gift of all this Christmas – their time.

Every year, Gentoo donates gifts and toys to local charities and makes donations to food banks throughout the city.

And this year, some of the 1,200 strong workforce have reinforced the spirit of the season by giving up their time to help some of the most vulnerable people in the city.

In the run-up to Christmas, Gentoo staff have gone out of their way to help those in the community, who are socially isolated, struggling financially or who are at risk of homelessness, in a variety of ways.

Volunteers who play a brass instrument formed an impromptu brass ensemble to bring a little Christmas cheer to Gentoo’s sheltered housing schemes.

Others also took part in ‘Crafternoons’, making decorations, to raise awareness of the therapeutic effect of crafts on mental health and wellbeing. It was also used to raise awareness of mental health issues.

According to Age UK, more than two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone and more than a million older people say they go for more than a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.

So, Gentoo staff have formed a team of ‘Befrienders’, made up of staff and community volunteers who spend time with those who are socially isolated.

One of their community volunteers will be providing lunch on Christmas day for residents who would otherwise be on their own.

This year, Gentoo, also led a community campaign to provide practical gifts to those in need. Gifts were donated by Gentoo staff, the local community and corporate partner Barclays.

More than 300 adults and children across Sunderland have received toys, gift sets, clothing and toiletries, while food parcels have been delivered to Elim Church Food Bank, Washington Community Food Project, the Armed Forces Veterans Group and Hetton Food Bank – Loaves and Fishes.

Individual food parcels were also delivered to vulnerable Gentoo customers via staff referrals and money denoted by members of the public will be used to buy sleeping bags to support the homeless. All donations were delivered by Gentoo volunteers.

Beneficiaries include Ashkirk Homelessness Household Project, Centrepoint, Children’s Services, Wearside Women in Need, St Benedict’s Hospice, Sans Street Youth and Community Centre, Hope 4 Kidz, YMCA, Lewis Crescent, Animal Krackers, Sunderland Carers’ Centre and Bede Tower Homeless Group.

Margaret Scanlin, Hetton Food Bank, Loaves and Fishes said: “The donations of food have brought a lot of happiness and joy to our clients. As churches together working to help those in need, we feel that donations from people like Gentoo bring a little peace and joy into people's lives and maybe a little hope for the future."

Michelle Meldrum, Executive Director (Operations) from Gentoo said: “I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to everyone who has donated a gift this year.

“We have been overwhelmed with the generosity of the local community, our staff and our corporate partner – Barclays. These donations will help put a smile on the face of hundreds of people across Sunderland.

“Christmas is a time of kindness and generosity and it makes me so proud to see our staff and members of the local community looking out for their neighbours, though befriending, community initiatives and random acts of kindness.

“These gestures will make a huge difference this Christmas and beyond.”

Anyone interested in giving their time to befriend someone who is lonely should call 0191 525 2760 or email