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Keeping the Christmas Spirit Alive

By Dan Hutton on January 28, 2019 in News

The man himself, by Lucas Goldman

Christmas, as they say, is all about the spirit of giving, and the Eastern Suburbs community certainly embraced that sentiment in late December when they came together to donate gifts to Mal Ward’s Christmas Presents for Sick Kids event.

As many of you would’ve read in our December edition, the Christmas present drive is held in honour of Johnno Ward, who bravely fought childhood liver disease for most of his short life and spent numerous Christmases in a hospital bed.

Here at The Beast, Christmas Presents for Sick Kids is without doubt our favourite charitable event of the year. We threw out the feelers on social media to see if any of our family and friends were keen to donate to this great cause, and within 48 hours our bank account was flush with $3850 to be spent on gifts for children and young teenagers who would be spending the festive season in Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick and Westmead Children’s Hospital.

We put in a quick phone call to the good folk at Laugh and Learn toy shop, a locally owned and run business with stores in Clovelly and Randwick that has been plying its trade for over 15 years, and store owners Anne-Maree Keogh and Tanya Brabrook were more than happy to jump on board, agreeing to give us a 25 per cent discount on all of our purchases, as well as gift wrapping and categorising the selected presents at very short notice. It was an incredible display of Christmas spirit that won’t soon be forgotten.

“We just do it because we love it,” Ms Keogh told The Beast. “It’s such a good thing for our kids to observe, this spirit of giving.

“It’s nice to be able to do something that lightens the load for someone else. We’re fortunate to live where we live and that our kids have been blessed with good health. We’re very lucky.

“We just want to help out where we can and the Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick is very dear to us.”

Never before have so many presents been donated to the cause, with the final count coming in at just over 1300 gifts. Better still, people appear to be spending more money on their gifts each year.

“The quality of the gifts donated has really improved over the years, and this year has been no exception,” event organiser Mal Ward said. “People are really putting the effort in.

“We’ve also been very fortunate to receive the support of Merlin Entertainment’s charity arm, Merlin’s Magic Wand. They donated nearly 500 presents to the cause this year.

“To get a company like that on board is massive. They’re a fantastic organisation and they’re incredibly generous.”

Every year Mr Ward personally delivers the accumulated presents to the two children’s hospitals. Not only is it a chance to see the smiles that they put on the kids’ faces, it’s also an opportunity to catch up with some of the nurses that cared for his son when he was hospital-bound.

“It’s very gratifying for me to go to the hospitals and present them with the presents we’ve been able to accumulate,” Mr Ward said.

“The nurses think it’s wonderful what I do, but I think it’s even more wonderful what they do.

“Half a dozen of those nurses have been there for over 20 years.”

As usual, Mr Ward understated his role in the event and shifted the attention to the generosity and enthusiasm of the local community.

“Without everyone’s generous donations, the time our volunteers put into wrapping gifts and the venue provided by the Coogee Bay Hotel, none of this would be possible.

“Best of all, it keeps the spirit and legacy of Johnno alive, which means the world to me.”