THE famed Whistlestop Cafe in Teignmouth is launching its annual appeal to ensure everyone in the community is looked after this Christmas, but they cannot do it without the help of others.

Melissa Middleton BEM, the proprietor of the Whistlestop and the driving force behind the cafe’s appeal explained what they are after.

‘We’re collecting as many toys as possible, new or as new. We ask the toys to come as they are, so we give the toys to the parents with wrapping paper, so they can be involved and have a bit of ownership and pride,.’ ’ she said.

The cafe is also collecting Christmas food and products for their festive hampers, as well as continuing their normal hampers. Food that’s easily cooked up on the streets for the homeless is also requested.

The support will be distributed through HITS, or Homeless in Teignbridge Support foodbank.

Melissa added: ’We’re also collecting raffle prizes, it’s a mad time of year!’

Melissa has been running the collections for 18 of the 21 years she’s been running the Whistlestop.

It may seem like a lot of work for one small train station cafe, but for Melissa, it’s her raison d’etre.

‘My life’s mad but I wouldn’t choose to have it any other way,’ said Melissa.

‘For me, this is my Christmas. This is what I do, it makes me feel good. So in a way, it’s a selfish motive, because I get to feel so good when I do this.’

Much of Melissa’s charitable work began in her late 20s when she was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour.

Melissa said: ‘When you’re given a 30% chance of survival, it makes you look at the world differently. I nearly didn’t make it. I started looking around and thought, do you know what, I‘m going to make my life worth something.’

There was one moment that really stuck out: ‘I went down for a scan and there was a little boy there, he just came across and kept making me laugh.

‘Suddenly, he said to me, ‘I’m dying you know?’ His mother told me that he had decided that he was going to make as many people smile as possible, so I decided to do the same.’

Melissa’s charitable work even earned her a British Empire Medal in 2017. But for her, it’s those around Melissa that make her contribution stand out.

‘The team and the community are always absolutely wonderful. Every year they give so much to us. Everyone goes on about how amazing I am, but I’m not, because without my team and those people in the community, we couldn’t do this. It would be like being a conductor without an orchestra.’

To help out, bring any donations to the Whistlestop Cafe at Teignmouth Train Station.