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By Isabella Trimboli on December 21, 2017 in News

Two of the best, by James Hutton

No one should have to spend Christmas Day in hospital, but for many sick children and their families this is an unavoidable reality. Thankfully, local legend and barbecue entrepreneur Mal Ward is here to put a smile on these brave children’s faces through his annual Forever Johnno Christmas present drive.
Every December, Mr Ward asks the local community to dig deep and donate gifts for sick children (and their families) who are being cared for in The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick.
Mr Ward started the drive back in 2008, the Christmas after his son Johnno had passed away from childhood liver disease. In the first year he received 161 presents to give to the hospital and that number has grown every year since, with the latest drive receiving over a thousand presents.
“The response from the community has been fantastic,” Mr Ward told The Beast.
This year, the drive will be held at the Coogee Bay Hotel on Sunday, December 17, from 1.30pm. Locals are encouraged to bring as many gifts as they can. Presents can also be dropped off at Clovelly Taxation and Business Services, 17A Doncaster Avenue, Kensington.
If the presents are already wrapped, Mr Ward kindly asks that people mark the gifts with the appropriate age group and gender on a small sticker. Locals are also invited to hang around, help wrap some presents, and enjoy a complimentary barbecue and face-painting for the kids. The presents will be dropped off at both children’s hospitals the following day.
“The amount of gifts we now collect enables the nurses to give presents to the sick child’s siblings as well, which takes the burden off the parents who already have enough on their plates,” Mr Ward explained.
This year, Mr Ward will be joining forces with another local legend, Dave Martin, who runs his own Christmas present drive at his popular Coogee establishment, Courtyard Café.
People are invited to place gifts for children and adults under Courtyard’s Christmas tree, which will then be delivered to shelters for homeless men and abused women and children.
A portion of these presents will now go towards Mr Ward’s drive and provide gifts to children spending Christmas in hospital.
“I have nothing but admiration for how Mal has dealt with extreme heartache and turned it into an unwavering passion and drive to help other families and kids,” Mr Martin told The Beast.
“It breaks my heart knowing there are kids and grown-ups who aren’t lucky enough to have a happy Christmas.”
“Giving and making others feel loved is what Christmas is all about. A simple gift, no matter how big or small, goes a long way.”
For more information, or to donate, please drop in to Courtyard or call Mal on 0414 293 396.