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Maitland’s top citizen launches 2023 Susan Roskell Toy and Gift Drive

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After handing over almost 25,000 items last year, Todd Sheldon believes the 2023 Susan Roskell Toy and Gift Drive could surpass that number.

Even before the much-loved initiative launched this week, donations began pouring in to provide presents to children impacted by the effects of family violence, homelessness, illness or injury throughout the Hunter and Central Coast on 25 December.

Already, the Bolwarra Heights resident’s garage is starting to look a bit like Santa’s workshop.

But, Mr Sheldon doesn’t really mind since it’s all for a great cause, via a network of local charities – Maitland Region Community Support, The Backpack Venture, Early Links, Carrie’s Place and Got Your Back Sister, among others.

He, wife Penny and son Lachlan kick-started the concept in 2016, however it was renamed after his late mother 18 months ago as a mark of respect to Ms Roskell and what she’d put into the community.

“It’s amazing how much it’s grown since its inception,” he said.

“However, we lost mum to pancreatic cancer in 2021.

“It had always been the plan to name it after her… and she knew it.

“So, 2022 was the inaugural Susan Roskell Toy and Gift Drive.

“And, it was a massive success.

“We gave away between 20,000 and 25,000 toys and gifts, supporting 16 local organisations.

“Plus, we also sent a busload of goods to the Lismore region, which had been impacted by floods.

“We always launch this month because of Christmas in July.

“So, there’s a lot going on in the background at the moment, updating our website, organising our drop-off points, liaising with community groups who offer their support and, then, finding the people who need the assistance.

“Sadly, that seems to be more and more with the cost of living.

“As well, we’ve just taken on a group in Raymond Terrace called Grandparents as Parents.

“That’s becoming a very prominent thing for people who are retired and end up raising their grandchildren.

“I feel it’s going to be a tough year for many, many residents.”

A proud Todd Sheldon, with son Lachlan and wife Penny, after winning the Maitland Citizen of the Year award. Photo: Rod Thompson

Mr Sheldon’s commitment to helping those in need earned him the Maitland Citizen of the Year award in January.

But, he’s quick to deflect any plaudits that come his way.

“It’s hard to say how it will all go in 2023… we’ll work with what we get,” he said.

“So, it’ll be interesting to see what the support is like this year due to the squeeze on living expenses and that sort of thing.

“However, as I’ve always said, community’s a really powerful thing.

“And, the Hunter is a very generous region.

“Ironically, some of our biggest supporters are the less affluent areas.

“I think that’s because they’ve gone through it before, so they actually know what it feels like… and they don’t want others to experience it.

“We also have a lot of parents, and especially mums, who we’ve assisted in the past who are now supporters.

“So, that’s a great thing, the connection.

“We’ve already got quite a large lot of toys in the garage, which is terrific… and we haven’t even launched yet.

“The other day, the West Maitland Centennial Lions Club dropped a few bags of toys in.

“Receiving that sort of output from an unexpected source is fantastic.

“But, we’ve got some big things in the pipeline.

“I’ll be talking to Hunter Junior Rugby Union soon… they’re looking at doing something for the Susan Roskell Toy and Gift Drive, too.

“So, I couldn’t do this without everyone’s help.”

Todd Sheldon with just some of the items already donated to the 2023 Susan Roskell Toy and Gift Drive. Photo: Rod Thompson

Mr Sheldon said there were many avenues for people to chip in as well.

“Any local organisation, sporting group or school that wants to be involved, we would be more than happy to talk with them and coordinate something,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“There might be those who’d like to volunteer, too.

“However, if anyone can donate this year, that would be great, we’re certainly going to need it.

“Of course, toys and gifts are brilliant, like sporting equipment, books and games… then there’s the 12 years and older age group, so that could be socks, caps, T-shirts or even vouchers.

“Every little bit helps.

“As we grow, we’re also expanding into areas that we’ve never covered before.

“In 2022, we went as far as Merriwa in the west all the way to Port Stephens.

“This time around, we’re looking at potentially breaching into the Central Coast. “So, visit the website, there’s an area where people can place an enquiry or they can just ring me directly.”

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