Christmas is supposed to be a time where you create happy memories that will last a lifetime.

But for some, it can be one of the toughest times of the year.

One struggling single mum was left heartbroken when she had nothing to give her six-year-old boy on Christmas Day.

After hearing about her heartbreaking story, a group of eight friends were determined to help.

The group bought gifts for the child and soon realised the harsh reality that she wasn't the only one in this position.

With nearly 100,00 children in Newcastle living in poverty, Project Santa was launched to help hundreds of families in need to put food on the table and give children gifts this Christmas.

And now due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, families across the region are in need of support more than ever before.

Now in its fifth year running, Project Santa works with local schools in Newcastle's West End who identify the families who are living on the poverty line.

Starting out helping 45 children, friends Amit Bahanda, Kemmy Arora Mehan, Sandra English, Sandeep Kapoor, Seema Vadhera and Susan Vedhera Monika Chopra, Irem Haq and Louise Ramsey now have helped more than 300 youngsters.

Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic the amount of children the group help has increased by 50%.

Mum-of-two Susan Armstrong is among those who is benefiting from the project.

She said: "I've just received the presents and food parcels - they are amazing.

"The boys will love their presents I know and the food parcels gave some amazing stuff that we wouldn't be able to buy ourselves at this time.

"I'm so grateful for the team at Project Santa for their help, they have no idea how much this means to us."

After receiving a list of those in need from the schools, the team use social media to ask people to donate gifts.

Due to social distancing regulations, this year the group are also receiving donations through their website and the Newcastle Hindu temple who has sponsored 160 food parcels.

The gifts are then delivered directly to each family through their schools.

Amit Bahanda, a 38-year-old volunteer at Project Santa, said: "Every child deserves a happy Christmas and it's heartbreaking to think that many children will go without a present on Christmas Day.

"This year there are a lot more family suffering due to impact of Covid with many losing jobs, being furloughed and are unable to afford the key necessities that fall around Christmas.

"With that added pressure this can cause many parents to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

"If we can help to put a smile on one child's face or help one set of parents, not to have that worry or anxiety, and that's an amazing job that we've done."

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