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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The people making a difference – the mum giving free phones and games to young people in need | Life and style

Kayla Ellis’s children came home from school recently and asked their mother what was going on: the hallway was full of bags of clothing, trainers and toys. Ellis remembers her own mother also eyeing the chaos – and telling her she’d bitten off more than she could chew. Her mother was referring to the unofficial charity shop that Ellis has installed in her house. Ellis, a 31-year-old gardener from Cardiff, says: “I’ve got some builders coming next week to give me a quote to build a shed in the garden, so I can store the rest of the stuff in there.”

Ellis did not intend to create a charity shop in her house; it just sort of happened. (Technically, it’s not a charity shop, as all items are free, but locals call it that and it has caught on.) The idea started when her son was picked on at school because he didn’t have a trendy backpack.

Ellis knew from personal experience how much having the “right” items – the fashionable bag, trainers and coat – matters when you’re a teenager. “My mum worked hard to get me everything I needed when I was a child,” she says. “But I didn’t always have the stuff everyone else had.” She remembers being obsessed as a teen with a specific pair of gold earrings that all her friends had but she couldn’t afford.

“Children shouldn’t be made to feel they are different from anyone else,” she says. “They should feel equal to their surroundings and peers. I know what it feels like when you don’t, and it’s not nice.”

Ellis is a member of a number of local buy-and-sell Facebook groups, and over the years she would often see young people on there asking for items for free. One boy, she recalled, asked if anyone had a spare school tie, because his parents couldn’t afford to buy him one. Another teenager was asking for a mobile phone. A third was desperate for a specific hooded sweatshirt.

She thought about items in her house that she no longer needed, and rummaged around in her drawers, unearthing mobile phones and a tablet she no longer used. Ellis posted them on Facebook, asking if anyone would like them. Within minutes, they were claimed. “I thought OK,” she says, “there are kids out there who need this stuff.”

Next, she began soliciting donations from her community, asking for anything clean and in good condition that young people might want: toys, electronics, clothes, makeup, shoes. The donations started rolling in immediately, and haven’t stopped. “Everyone has been absolutely amazing,” she says.

Kayla Ellis with some of her stock of donated goods.
Kayla Ellis with some of her stock of donated goods. Photograph: Alicia Canter/the Guardian

The day we speak, she’s just had someone drop off an iPad mini, an iPod, some hair straighteners and some unused makeup. Tomorrow, she’s going to collect a PlayStation 4. She’s also had Nintendo Wiis, board games, and endless toys, clothes and shoes. Whenever anything comes in, Ellis posts details on her Facebook page, and it goes to the first person to claim it. Ellis does drop-offs twice a week, or people are welcome to collect from her in the evenings – her doorbell is constantly ringing. Nothing hangs about for long.

“What she’s doing is amazing. She puts all her time and effort into helping people. It’s rare when you see that,” says Dawn Duggan, a mother of 10 who knows first-hand how hard it is to get her children all the latest gadgets. Her son recently broke his phone – it fell out of his pocket when cycling to school – and Ellis helped source him a new one. “He went there straight after school and she gave him it,” Duggan says. “He couldn’t believe it.”

“I’m shocked at how many people are struggling at the moment,” Ellis says. “We’re going through a crisis.” Many families who contact her are in work, but don’t have money for luxuries. “I welcome everyone, not just people on benefits. Children shouldn’t just have the basics of life. They should have the kinds of games and toys their peers have.”

Ellis is also giving a second life to items that are often destined to landfill. “This is stuff that might otherwise be going to the tip,” she says. “We’re doing our bit for the planet.”

For a treat, Ellis asks for something unexpected: cleaning products. “I love a good cleaning session,” she says. “There’s nothing better. I like to get stuck in before the kids get back from school. There’s that half-hour where everything is immaculate and it’s all nice and peaceful.” Plus, as her “charity shop” is in her home, it’s good to stay on top of the mess. Eco-friendly cleaning brand Iron & Velvet provides Ellis with a year’s worth of supplies, plus reusable bottles and cloths. Ellis is already eyeing up her oven for a good scrub. “I can’t wait,” she says. And with the prospect of getting her home in order, a charity-shop-running mother is very satisfied.

Want to nominate someone for Guardian angel? Email us – with their permission – and suggest a treat at guardian.angel@theguardian.com

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