It’s strange sitting in an empty office, which used to be buzzing with the Camp Simcha team. For now it’s only me and our amazing services coordinator Yaffi. We come in to the office, staying socially distanced and safe because we want to still be able to send out the art packs, grading packs and other essential support that is keeping our families going through isolation.

At Camp Simcha our services team has always worked to give vital practical and therapeutic support to families, while bringing joy and fun activities to the children’s lives. Lockdown has not changed our mission in any way. However, we have had to be creative in how we do this and I am so proud of how our team has transformed in such a short time how we support families.

While many of the practical services such as hospital transports, crisis meals and night-time respite care have continued, albeit with extra safety precautions, our face-to-face activities and outings clearly could not at the moment.

But our services team, along with our Family Liaison Officers, arts therapists and counsellors, have been working over-time to maintain support for our families on the phone and using virtual communications, while sending in a steady stream of fun activities for the children. From creative toys, games and crafts to seed and herb kits for inside and out, we have sent over 1000 arts and crafts items in so far as well as 130 gardening packs and these are bringing so much pleasure to families.

Our wonderful Big Brother and Sister volunteers have also maintained the important relationships they have with both the sick children Camp Simcha supports and their siblings – their generation more than any are fantastic at finding virtual ways to connect and have fun. We have organised a wonderful Camp Simcha’s Got Talent competition which was a huge hit with families, bringing laughter and lightness to their lives at a very dark time.

Our families need the continuity of Camp Simcha’s support more than ever right now. Many of the children are very vulnerable and their parents are understandably terrified. Juggling family life – when all your children are at home – with caring for a seriously ill child when much of your support has fallen way, is beyond overwhelming and exhausting.

We are now running up to 50 weekly virtual therapeutic Arts at home sessions. Families have fed back to us how much of a boost this is to the children, while bringing a much-needed break for them. We are also providing counselling, tutoring and lending of equipment such as i-pads, laptops and DVD players. Meanwhile our FLOS have set up virtual parent support groups to help counteract the sense of isolation many of our families feel – and the new parent portal on our website gives them access to exercise videos, advice and activities.

We have received donations of over 2,000 new books for children and adults, which are being posted out to families by our volunteers.

While we may not be able to take families on outings, we have been organising entertainers and concerts and every week we send a new challenge out to families, from treasure hunts to bake-offs. We have even organised a few lockdown birthday parties for children we support. Three-year-old Maya’s My Little Pony party was loved by her family and friends who joined in on Zoom.

Via our hospital programme we are filling requests for Camp Simcha bears, toy and games from children of all denominations who are in hospital and feeling particularly isolated, as well delivering hand creams for nurses.

You cannot imagine what all this means to families, but the message we received from one of our mums says it better than I can:

‘Thank you so much for the big parcel with all the games and toys you sent us. My kids love it and are so busy playing with the Knex – a perfect entertainment for them. Thank you thank you…I don’t have enough words to thank you. But thank you for just being here for us. It’s exactly what my kids and we needed now.’