“The joy in Christmas is not in the receiving, but in the giving. People here know that.”
It’s fair to say that nobody understands that more than Pat McBride.
She’s spearheaded the CAUSE Christmas hamper campaign for more than three decades, providing Christmas cheer to thousands of families in Middlesbrough.
The former teacher founded CAUSE with fellow Catholics Carol and David Cross 34 years ago, and at 78, helped by an ever expanding team of volunteers, Pat is still as enthusiastic as ever.
“When we started, there was a lot of unemployment,” remembered Pat.
“We wanted to show that someone cared really, we were not solving anyone’s problems but hopefully we spread some happiness.”
The charity has mushroomed from giving out 25 hampers in that first year, collected from pupils and staff at what used to be Newlands School in Middlesbrough, where Pat taught French.
In 2021, another bitterly tough year for people in the town, more than 1,500 hampers have been donated, many collected from local schools and colleges.
A huge collection and distribution operation sprung up at the Riverside Stadium, with hordes heading along to donate: “We’re a registered charity now, and about six years ago we went onto social media. Since then, it’s just gone even bigger than we’d imagined.”
The Christmas hampers often depend on need – they include basics and food to last throughout the festive season, along with puddings, treats and presents.
Many families prepare hampers for an anonymous family – providing for any children, and parents.
Shopping vouchers are also available so that families can buy food from local supermarkets.
“I think we’ve found that since the pandemic, there have been more requests for help, more people in crisis,” said Pat.
Because Cause doesn’t just help at Christmas – it provides crisis support, on referral, all through the year.
“There’s people who’ve suffered domestic violence. There’s kids without even a bed to sleep in. Every kid needs a warm bed, don’t they?”
But even as the need changes, one thing has remained constant: the generosity of Middlesbrough people.
“I think it’s increasing, actually,” continued Pat.
“We all know, Middlesbrough isn’t the richest and wealthiest place but we never want for things in this town – people will give what they can.
“I have learned how generous people are.
“I’ve seen it – people we’ve helped before, they come back later and they make sure they give back to someone else when they can.
“I saw someone in Tesco, who we had worked with before. They told me ‘I remember how I felt when I had nothing, how grateful I was for the help’. And she wanted to come and help out now.
“That is very moving. It’s very uplifting.
“The generous hearted people of this town are just amazing.”
Past pupils of Pat’s have started their own schemes, in places like London and Portsmouth.
And she was honoured with the British Empire Medal in 2018, much to her surprise.
“I couldn’t quite believe it, I was overwhelmed, but it was lovely for people to put me forward,” continued Pat, who lives in Marton.
“But the truth is that every volunteer, every person who donates, they make it.
“People need the help and there’s so many people here who’ll give them it. It’s not just Cause, there’s the White Feather Project, Helping Hands, lots of places – that’s Middlesbrough.”
We are words: Mike Brown
We are pictures: Main image, with thanks, from The Gazette/Teesside Live.