PEOPLE WHO MAKE THE DIFFERENCE – Mom gives free phones and games to young people in need | Life and elegance

KThe children of Ayla Ellis came home from school recently and asked their mother what was going on: the hallway was full of bags of clothes, sneakers, and toys. Ellis remembers that her mother was also looking forward to the mess—and told her she had bitten off more than she could chew. Her mother was referring to the informal charity shop that Ellis had set up in her home. “I have some builders coming in next week to give me a quote to build a hut in the garden, so I can store the rest of the stuff there,” says Ellis, a 31-year-old gardener from Cardiff.

Ellis had no intention of setting up a charity store in her home; It kind of happened. (Technically, it’s not a charity store, as all items are free, but locals call it that and I caught it.) The idea started when her son was picked up at school because he didn’t have a fashionable backpack.

Ellis knew from personal experience how important it is to have “the right” items – a trendy bag, sneakers and coat – when you’re a teenager. “My mom worked hard to provide me with everything I needed when I was a kid,” she says. “But I didn’t always have the things that other people have.” She remembers being obsessed as a teenager with a certain pair of gold earrings that all her friends had but couldn’t afford.

“Kids shouldn’t be made to feel different from everyone else,” she says. “They have to feel equal to their surroundings and peers. I know how you will feel when you don’t, and it’s not nice.”

Ellis is a member of a number of local buy and sell groups on Facebook, and over the years she has often seen young people out there asking for free stuff. I remembered one of the kids asking if anyone had a spare tie, because his parents couldn’t buy one for him. Another teenager was asking for a mobile phone. The third badly needed a specific hooded sweatshirt.

She thought of things in her house that she no longer needed, searched her drawers, and discovered cell phones and a tablet she no longer used. Ellis posted it on Facebook, wondering if anyone would like it. Within minutes, they were claimed. “I thought OK, there are kids out there who need these things,” she says.

Then, she began soliciting donations from her community, asking for anything clean and in good condition that young people might need: toys, electronics, clothes, makeup, and shoes. Donations immediately began pouring in and did not stop. “Everyone has been so amazing,” she says.

Kayla Ellis with some of her stock of donated merchandise. Photo: Alicia Kanter/The Guardian

The day we speak, she had someone drop an iPad mini, an iPod, some hair straighteners, and some unused makeup. Tomorrow it’s going to bring together the PlayStation 4. It also has Nintendo Wiis, endless board games, games, clothes, and shoes. When anything comes up, Ellis posts the details on her Facebook page, and goes to the first person to claim it. Ellis delivers orders twice a week, or welcomes people to pick them up in the evening – her doorbell rings constantly. Nothing hangs for long.

“What she does is amazing. She puts all of her time and effort into helping people. It’s rare to see that,” says Don Duggan, a mother of ten who knows firsthand how difficult it is to get the latest gadgets for her children. Her son recently broke his phone – it fell out of his pocket when he was riding a bike to school – and Ellis helped him get a new one. “He went there right after school and I gave it to him,” says Duggan. “He couldn’t believe it.”

“I was shocked at how many people are suffering right now,” Ellis says. “We are going through a crisis.” Many of the families you call work, but don’t have the money for luxuries. “Everyone is welcome, not just people who get benefits. Children shouldn’t just have the necessities of life. They should have the kinds of toys and games that their peers have.”

Ellis also gives a second life to items that are often destined for landfill. “These are things that would have gone into tipping otherwise,” she says. “We are doing our bit for the planet.”

For a treat, Ellis orders something unexpected: cleaning products. “I love a good cleaning session,” she says. “There is nothing better. I like to hang before the kids come back from school. There is a half an hour where everything is clean and everything is nice and quiet.” Plus, since her “charity shop” is in her house, it’s a good idea to stay on top of this mess. The Iron & Velvet brand of eco-friendly cleaning provides Ellis with a year’s supply of supplies, as well as reusable bottles and cloths. Ellis is already looking to her oven for a good scrub. “I can’t wait,” she says. And with the prospect of rearranging her home, the mom who runs a charity store is very satisfied.

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

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