A mum-of-two who hit rock bottom when her marriage broke down and she lost her home has donated thousands of pounds worth of presents to The Salvation Army’s Christmas Present Appeal – after the charity ‘saved her life’.

Simone Williams’s life started to spiral after she suffered a heart attack on Boxing Day 2013, aged just 28 and while pregnant with her second child.

When her marriage broke down a few months after her baby was born prematurely, but thankfully healthily, Simone, 35, of Clitheroe, Lancashire, and her two children were forced to move out of the family home.

Having given up work so she could care for her daughters, now aged seven and six, Simone fell into arrears on her rented house – and facing the prospect of not being able to buy her children Christmas presents, she hit rock bottom.

But it was a knock on the door from two “guardian angels” corps officer captain Elizabeth Smith and territorial envoy Brenda Wise from Clitheroe’s Salvation Army, armed with sacks of presents, that gave Simone hope again and helped her ‘claw her way back up’.

And for the past five years, Simone has fundraised to buy presents for the church and charity’s Christmas Present Appeal – raising almost £5,000 to help other families who are in a similar position to the one she found herself in all those years ago. 

Simone said: “I was in a very bad place. I thought ‘I can’t provide for my children’ and that is the worst feeling you can imagine.

“There was a knock on the door and two guardian angels, Elizabeth and Brenda, were stood there with two bags of presents and a gift pack for me. I just crumpled to the floor and broke down. They saved my life, because they showed me that people do care and that we’re not alone.

“It meant I could see joy on my children’s faces on Christmas day.”

Recalling the moment her life started to crumble, Simone said that she started to feel unwell on Boxing Day 2013, but put it down to being pregnant.

“I felt really clammy, cold but sweaty, but when I went to bed I knew something wasn’t right. I had pain all up my neck and shoulders. It felt like I was being steamrollered across my chest. I called 111 and they told us to go to hospital,” she said.

“I was only 24 weeks pregnant, so I remember thinking if this baby is born now, she won’t make it. It was terrifying. I thought ‘this can’t be happening to me’.

“My husband was at home looking after our first-born and it was the loneliest time.

“I had to spend New Year’s Eve in hospital and was discharged in time for my daughter’s first birthday on January 4.

“I thought ‘next Christmas is going to be the best because I will make up for this one’.”

Simone gave birth to her second daughter in May 2014 six weeks early, but sadly her marriage broke down a few months later and she could not afford to stay in the family home – having taken time off her job in retail, where she worked for 13 years, when she fell sick and later took maternity leave.

She was moved into a council property but due to delays in benefit payments, she fell behind on the rent, but was given a reprieve by a judge after she was taken to court, so could stay in her home.

She said: “The first Christmas after my second daughter was born, the one I was determined to make the best after being so poorly the year before, I was for the first time in my life relying on food banks.

“I didn’t even know they existed before that as I’d never had to utilise them. Seeing the effort that people put in and how they make a difference is incredible.

“But I was at rock bottom, having sleepless nights thinking how I would be able to afford to provide for my two girls.”

Having never heard of The Salvation Army’s Christmas Present Appeal, which collects gifts and distributes them to those in need, Simone believes she was nominated for it by someone who knew she was struggling.

She said: “It showed me that there are people that want to help. It was a massive turning point for me, and I managed to crawl my way back up. I got back into work and I paid off my rent. That is thanks to The Salvation Army, for giving me hope when there was none.”

Ever thankful to the church and charity, who also later helped her source household goods, the following year Simone was determined to give something back.

Back in work, Simone, who also volunteers at homelessness charity Street Hope, organised a collection with work colleagues raising £265 with which she bought 50 gifts.

“It was the best feeling ever and I’ve done it every year since. One year I managed to raise £2,000 which filled up the stock room. In the last five years, I’ve probably raised around £5,000.

“This year has been a struggle as I’ve not been at work due to Covid-19, but have been asking for donations from home and raised £537 which I’ve spent on gifts.

“This is my way of giving back because I’m in a position where I can now. I want to get across the message that even if you are at rock bottom you can get up again.

I still have bad days, but I have a roof over my head and food in mine and my children’s bellies. You can get back up, but always accept help, don’t be too proud to do so.”

Corps officer captain Elizabeth Smith said Simone was not in a good place when they first met, so they wanted to help take the pressure off and give the children a good Christmas.

She said: “Every year since Simone has raised money to buy toys for our Christmas Toy Appeal and to say thank you for the help she received from The Salvation Army.

“Her generous spirit has taken the pressure off many parents, and brought joy to their children. She is an amazing young lady with a big heart. She is a blessing to us.”