The Taunton Academy has arranged for its 195 students who receive free school meals (FSMs) to be given “Christmas in bag” on the last day of term. Thanks to the generosity of the people of Taunton, what started as a plan to give out small party bags developed into a huge undertaking in the past few weeks, so families will be receiving a Xmas in a parcel – in some cases with large presents such as a table football!

Donations came from Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, plus from parents at Taunton School and Queens College. Morrisons contributed 200 paper bags. Natalie Dyson, Chair of Help Taunton, also secured funding – together they coordinated donations from local shops and families. Natalie then arranged through a Facebook request for a team of helpers to wrap up all the gifts and deliver them to the school.

The original idea was for the bags to contain party crackers, some food, sweets, a Christmas pudding and a gift. The team in the school’s Student Support department worked non stop over the last two weeks dealing with donations, buying items, sorting and packing bags. The staff on reception also dealt with the numerous people coming in with donations. As a result the children will all now have a large bag filled with food, at least three wrapped presents each and a selection box.

Organiser Lindsey Clark, Home School Liaison Officer, said: “This small idea has turned into a huge project and I cannot believe how amazing the bags are and what a difference it will make to our families. It is a great thing for the school and I am really proud how we have got this done.

“I follow the footballer Marcus Rashford on Twitter and really supported his call for FSMs to be given to children over the summer and half term. I had this idea then at the beginning of September that I really wanted to make up a Christmas goodie bag for each of our FSM families and children so they all had a few basics and some treats and some wrapped gifts, as I know it’s been a really difficult time for them.

“Natalie Dyson of Help Taunton offered to help and together we have had food and gifts donated beyond our wildest dreams. Her assistance in all of this has been invaluable. Each large bag now has lots of food, including a Christmas pudding, party crackers, cookies, selection box, tea, cheese biscuits and more. It includes at least three wrapped gifts for our students too. There are also 40 ‘golden tickets’ which we have put in random bags so the children can win larger prizes such as table football, £15 Amazon/Asos vouchers, chocolates and art materials.

“The team in Student Support have worked tirelessly over the past few weeks to make my idea an actual reality so I am so very proud of what we have achieved.”

Head Teacher John Eddy added: “Lindsey has been doing the most wonderful thing for weeks now with our FSM students, putting together a Christmas bag for each family. This was a huge undertaking. She has developed links with local companies, co-ordinated donations from local shops and families and has then packaged everything up.

“Every time I think about it, I cannot believe what a wonderful gesture it is and what a really significant difference it will make to so many families. We have never done anything like this before – and in fact I don’t know any school that has – which is really worth celebrating.”