AN appeal launched by a Ladbrokes manager to gather goodies for British forces serving in Afghanistan has been a huge success, thanks to Stretford shoppers.

Last year, 50-year-old Marie Ward, a customer services manager at Ladbrokes in Stretford Mall who is mum to two serving soldiers, launched the appeal.

She put out a call for customers to bring in items such as sweets, snacks, toiletries and games which she could parcel up and send out to the troops on the front line.

She reckoned it was a racing certainty lots of people would want to help contribute items to the packages and that service men and women in the battle zone would be delighted to receive them.

Marie was right on both counts because she has so far sent off more than 50 shoe boxes packed with treats to Afghanistan.

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

The youngest of them, 20-year-old Paul Ward, has just returned from his tour 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.

Paul described the collection as ‘an absolutely brilliant effort’.

As soon as he arrived to start his tour of duty last September, Marie began sending him parcels containing goodies such as sweets and chocolates, hair gel, coffee sachets, cup-of-soups and pot noodles to share with his mates.

But around Christmas time it occurred to her 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: “I launched the appeal and 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.

“After a story about the appeal appeared in the local papers it just took off and over the past couple of months we’ve had a stream of people coming in with donations of all kinds.

“Around Christmas it was mainly sweets and chocolates but since then it’s been skincare items such as moisturiser and suncream, which obviously come in very useful out there because of the harsh climate.

“People of all kinds have been coming in and one of the most touching gestures was when two elderly gentlemen brought in packs of cards. They are Jack Nicholls, who is 92 and his brother Billy who is 90. They both served in the forces themselves in World War Two, Jack in the RAF and Billy in the Royal Navy, and they told me they used to play cards a lot to help break up the boredom. I thought that was really marvellous of them.

“Apart from customers we’ve also had contributions from some of the other stores in Stretford Mall. Tesco has been absolutely phenomenal and must have handed over at least 100 kilos of stuff from dental items like floss and toothbrushes to sweets and biscuits. They also let us have about 90 hot water bottles, which have been useful because it gets very cold at night out there.

“All the items have to be packed into boxes weighing no more than two kilos and two of the stores in the mall, Shoezone and Clarks, have been giving us loads of their unwanted shoe boxes.”

Colin McCrory, Stretford Mall manager, said: “Our shoppers are a really generous bunch so it’s hardly surprising that Marie’s appeal has enjoyed such great support.

“It’s a terrific idea and if I’m sure all our brave troops have been delighted to receive goodies sent from home with so much love.

“I would personally like to thank all those who donated to the appeal including the great support from the stores at Stretford Mall.”

Marie added: “Since the appeal started literally scores of troops must have benefited and I’m delighted it’s all been going so well.

“It’s important to say that the appeal isn’t finished. I’m keeping it going for as long as our soldiers are over in Afghanistan, which will be end of this year.

“Now Paul’s back at home, he’s arranged for someone else to receive the boxes and see they are shared out.

“I’d like to say a big thankyou to everyone who has donated to the appeal as I know it means so much to the lads and girls out there. I’d also like to urge people to keep the donations coming.”

Marie’s son, Paul, who has just won promotion to lance corporal, said: “I think what mum and everyone else connected to the appeal has done is absolutely brilliant.

“Getting all the goodies has been great and it has also shown that even though we’ve been so far away we’ve not been forgotten by the people back home. I’d like to thank everyone who has made donations.”

Marie 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, 23-year-old Jack, is currently serving with the Royal Army Dental Corps at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) at Mons in Belgium.

People can pop into the Ladbrokes store at Stretford Mall to donate to Marie’s forces appeal.