THE bets are on that Stretford shoppers will help a Ladbrokes manager gather goodies for British forces serving in Afghanistan.

Marie Ward, 50, a customer services manager at Ladbrokes in Stretford Mall who is mum to two serving soldiers, is appealing for people to donate sweets, snacks, toiletries and games which she can parcel up and send out to British troops abroad.

She reckons it’s a racing certainty that the packages will prove a big hit with the service men and women in the war zone who receive them.

Marie, who has been in her current role at Stretford Mall’s Ladbrokes branch since last Easter, has two sons who are serving soldiers.

The youngest of them is currently on the battle line in Afghanistan with his regiment, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) with whom he has served since he joined the army at the age of just 16.

Since he arrived for his tour of duty last September, she has been sending him parcels containing goodies such as sweets and chocolates, hair gel, coffee sachets, cup-of-soups and pot noodles.

He has been sharing his treats with his mates who all look forward to a little taste of home arriving.

But it recently occurred to Marie that while she and some of her friends were involved in putting together the parcels, people coming into Ladbrokes and shopping at other Stretford Mall stores might also want to help bring a little comfort to the troops.

She said: “Since my son went out to Afghanistan I must have sent him over 20 parcels containing all sorts of things the lads and girls can’t easily buy out there, although the army does its absolute best to make them as comfortable as possible.

“Just before Christmas, Ladbrokes made sweets available for the staff but we were finding that we had a few too many, so that’s when I came up with the idea of collecting them and putting them into the parcels for the troops.

“I even composed a little poem, which I put up in the staff area of our shops at Stretford Mall, Old Trafford and Davyhulme, asking colleagues to let me have any sweets they didn’t need.

“It went, ‘If Santa brings you lots of sweets/More than you can eat/Think of our boys in Afghanistan/And send them all a treat.’ “The response from our people has been great and we collected three kilos of sweets which were added to the parcels and sent off in time for the troops to receive them at Christmas.

“Now I’m taking the idea one step further by inviting customers who come into our shop and the other stores in Stretford Mall to donate their unwanted sweets and other small Christmas presents to a parcel appeal.”

Colin McCrory, Stretford Mall Manager, said: “Our shoppers are a really generous bunch so I feel sure Marie’s appeal will get some great support.

“Particularly when people realise Marie will be sending them directly to our brave troops abroad. It’s a terrific idea and if anyone has any sweet treats which they think they can do without, then I would urge them to drop them in to Marie at Ladbrokes in Stretford Mall.

“She will definitely find them a welcome and appreciative home!”

Marie added: “These days, many of us get more presents than we need, so it would be nice to send them over to Afghanistan, where our forces are doing a tremendous job in very difficult conditions.

“I think that if we were able to send off quite a few parcels of goodies it would help show the people serving out there that they are not forgotten and are very much appreciated by those of us at home.”

Marie, who lives in Harpurhey, Manchester, explained that her family has a strong military tradition. Her husband is a former soldier as were both her father and father-in-law.

Her older son is currently serving with the Royal Dental Corps at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) at Mons in Belgium.

Marie added: “My son, who is out in Afghanistan, tells me that although things are a bit hard at times he is enjoying being out there with his mates.

“They recently had a visit from the pop star Gary Barlow and other acts have been over to entertain them.

“He is due to come home to the UK in the spring and get married to his fiancé in August. But even when he’s back I’m planning to keep on sending out the parcels for as long as our forces are there, which I believe is the end of 2014.

“I’m just hoping that people in Stretford Mall will be as generous with my appeal as they are generally with things like this which are run at the centre.” Pop into the Ladbrokes store at Stretford Mall to donate to Marie’s forces appeal.