Andrea Mara encourages her children to think of less well off children — victims of war and enduring poverty — by getting them involved in donating toys and other gifts in the Team Hope Shoebox Appeal
COSY beds, hot food, wonderful teachers, and average but well-intentioned parents — my kids have plenty of what they need to feel safe, warm and happy. But of course, little frustrations still get them down, and I’ve been wondering recently how best to address this — how to give them a wider focus and a bigger picture.
I started looking online for child-friendly charities, and at exactly the same time, an email popped into my inbox about the Team Hope Shoebox Appeal. It seemed like fate — the perfect initiative for small kids too young to donate cash or help at a soup kitchen. The idea is simple —you cover a shoebox in wrapping paper, fill it with small gifts, and bring it to a drop-off location from where it will be taken overseas to child victims of war and poverty.
It has particular appeal to the shopaholics, magpies and lovers of “things” amongst us (there are three in my house) and when I mentioned it to my daughters, they were immediately curious and eager to take it on.
Elissa, who is nine, began looking around for toys she doesn’t play with anymore — I explained we’d need to find things that are in perfect condition, as well as buying some small gifts in the shops. I read out the list of ideas from the Team Hope email:
School items — pen, pencil, copybook, paper, colouring book, felt pens, sharpener, eraser, and solar calculator.
Hygiene items — toothbrush and toothpaste, soap (wrapped please), facecloth, hairbrush, and comb.
Clothing items — a hat, scarf, gloves, socks, or underwear.
A treat — sunglasses, game, small Irish gift, a photo of yourself, sweets (must be in date until at least March 2017), make up, a small musical instrument, toys like a doll, a car, cuddly toy, skipping rope, yo-yo, or finger puppet.
Seven-year-old Nia then went upstairs and came down with an unopened nail varnish and a wooden necklace that’s in perfect condition. Elissa followed suit and found a finger puppet and a small basket. Although none of these is new, they are effectively untouched, and I really like the idea that the girls are donating their belongings. It would be easy for them to sit back and watch while I buy new items, but including some of their own possessions definitely made it more meaningful.
Finding things around the house is exactly what volunteer Sarah Janman recommends. The mum of two from Charleville is the Team Hope coordinator for north Cork, and says the gifts don’t have to be new.
“I always say to children: ‘Go home and see what you have in your room that you can give to a little boy or girl. And if you’re going trick or treating, you could share your sweets — put some into your shoebox. Or even the sweets you don’t like — you always get some sweets you don’t like — the little boy or girl who has nothing might enjoy them.’” That sounds like a win for parents stuck with an excess of sugar following October 31 too.
Next we raided the “present bag” — I’m guessing most homes have a bag or cupboard for extra birthday presents and leftover party favours — the emergency stash for that moment when you realise the gift you bought looks too small, or for when you fail to buy one at all (that’s never happened, honest).
The bag yielded a notebook, markers, a necklace, and strangely, a packet of four Hello Kitty toothbrushes — I’ve no idea why I bought them originally, but I’m delighted they’re finally being put to good use.
“Toothbrushes and toothpaste are good shoebox options,” says Sarah. “And copybooks are great — lots of children can’t go to school without their own school supplies, so by sending copies, you’re making a huge difference.” Armed with this information, we hit the shops to buy copybooks, and a few more bits and pieces too. We spent about €15 in total between Tiger and Penneys, and I let the girls do the choosing, though I did veto some of the more obscure suggestions, like an eye mask and a head massager. They picked socks, markers, sketch-pads, a wooden whistle and a yoyo. The kids loved deliberating over what to buy and anticipating what the recipients might think, and I was delighted at how much thought they put into each item. It was really lovely to watch them discussing how the children might feel about a particular sock colour or toy detail.
The recipients’ reaction is something Sarah Janman knows very well, having travelled to Kosovo four times now as part of her work for Team Hope.
“The gifts are so simple, but the delight in those kids at a small teddy or a lollipop — or basically anything in their shoeboxes — is wonderful. We were in a kindergarten and one little girl just kept saying ‘wow’ at everything in her shoebox, taking them out, piece by piece. They can be very good at sharing — one child opened the box and it had lollies inside and she handed me one — I didn’t want to take it but she would have been offended if I didn’t!”
My own kids are reasonably good at sharing, but what I found interesting about the shoebox project was that they didn’t ask to keep any of the items for themselves, nor did they beg me to buy them anything while we were out shopping. I had hoped to give them a wider focus and an interest in giving rather than receiving, and it really seemed to be working. They weren’t thinking about themselves anymore, but about children in a faraway country, who would love to receive a gift of socks and lollipops.
I asked Sarah if there’s one particular shoebox item that always goes down well. “A great gift is a ball — for girls and boys — they love getting them,” she says. “One from a ball pool, a tennis ball, an inflatable beach ball – any kind at all.”
I passed this news on to my kids, and my four-year-old son Matthew said he was going to put his mini football in one of the boxes because ‘It’s really fun and the children might like it.’ In terms of getting my own children to think about a world outside our own — for however short a time — this was a huge success. But of course beyond that, the real win is giving something to a child just like mine, who has little or nothing at all.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved