Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Kids Will Be All Right

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Kids Will Be All Right

Article excerpt

Byline: says Susannah Butter

Camila Batmanghelidjh's charity is pulling out the stops to create a Christmas lunch for thousands of children, says Susannah Butter FROM wrapping up presents to rescuing the burning roast potatoes and dealing with bickering relatives, Christmas can be trying. But just imagine doing lunch for 7,500.

This is the challenge faced by Camila Batmanghelidjh, who is expecting to host a sit-down lunch for 3,500 children at the Kids Company Christmas party, and send out food parcels and gifts to a further 4,000. These are vulnerable children who would otherwise be alone or in danger on Christmas Day.

Batmanghelidjh started the Kids Company Christmas in 1996, having noticed suicide attempts by children go up in December. "The fact that children were seeing other people decorating their houses and having a nice time together while they were left alone was horrible," she says. "I saw a lot of gutwrenching crying. The whole world was working towards the day when these kids were going to be devastated."

She remembers one girl who was so afraid to leave her room on Christmas Day that she lifted the carpet and peed on the floorboards rather than risk seeing her mum on drugs.

The Kids Company Christmas Day starts at 7am with all the volunteers arriving at a mystery location that can sit such a large number. "It's a military operation," says Batmanghelidjh. She arranges transport for children, frantically looking for Muslim taxi drivers who won't be celebrating Christmas and can drive the children to the site -- which is top secret to avoid unwanted guests turning up.

Batmanghelidjh says she has to warn the volunteers. "If you're expecting a cosy Christmas, it's not this. I usually tell them it's a cross between Haiti when they were handing out aid after the hurricane and Noah's Ark for its queues. Kids don't want to be with us. It's humiliating to spend your Christmas with a charity. They want to be in their family homes and just by being there they're summoning up an enormous amount of courage."

With the children's ages ranging from babies to age 20, at the end of the day there's "tantrum management". "Like all Christmas parties, even with your family, it ends with everyone exhausted and bleary-eyed. There's always a group of kids who don't want to go home."

Batmanghelidjh arranges dinner for anyone who doesn't want to be alone afterwards. "Then I go home and crash." Kids Co's phone numbers are open in the period between Christmas and New Year so that no child ever feels alone.

There are 250 volunteers at the lunch. "They're amazing. Julia Peyton-Jones, co-director of the Serpentine Gallery, is usually invited to every A-class party but on Christmas Day she's at our lunch serving behind a counter. …

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