THE call to spread festive cheer to families in need has been made, as an annual toy appeal launches today.

Volunteers from the Salvation Army are calling on the residents of Darlington to think generously and donate toys, hampers and presents for struggling parents to give to their own children Christmas Day.

Year on year, the appeal sees an overwhelming response from kind-hearted locals as last year more than 600 youngsters woke up on December 25 to presents they otherwise may not have had.

And this year organisers are expecting just as much, if not more, demand for the appeal following the rollout of Universal Credit in which some families have to wait for first payments.

Volunteer Marilyn Waldock, who helps sort the donations from the appeal, said: "Each year the donations from residents are staggering.

"There was an increase in gifts last year and I'm sure there will be an increase again this year.

"This appeal is a very important thing for hundreds of families each Christmas.

"If something like this did not happen then there would to be an awful lot of children disappointed to not have anything to open and share on Christmas day.

"We are always so grateful for people's generosity and we want to thank people for all they have done in the past and what they will do this year."

Donations can include toys, books, toiletries and gifts which will be sorted into age-group categories.

Following from last year, the appeal also encompasses festive hampers, with businesses and individuals encouraged to donate festive foods or pay £25 to sponsor a hamper which will be given to families or the lonely at Christmas.

There is also an added appeal for chocolate selection boxes for those who wish to donate on a lower budget.

Donations can be made until December 14 to the Salvation Army headquarters, on Thompson Street East, between 10am and 12pm Monday to Saturday.

Other collection points include Sainsburys on Victoria Road, Footprints in Skinnergate or Asda.

For more information or advice on the demand for each age group, call 01325 380994