The gifts of Christmas bring cheer to children

There are those of us who can’t wait until Halloween is over so that the shops can finally get on with displaying their Christmas goods and creating winter wonderlands in their windows.

This sort of festive carry-on would appall some purists who think that not a hint of Christmas should be revealed before the second week in December — at the earliest.

Of course, there are some people who, incredibly, don’t actually like Christmas at all, and who would be just as happy if it were cancelled altogether But whatever your point of view on the festive season you can’t fail to be impressed by the people at Team Hope, who will have already concluded an important part of their Christmas preparations by the time you read this.

Team Hope is an Irish interdenominational develop-ment charity which works with children and their families in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Africa It runs community-based projects such as water purification and education schemes, and offers a future to women who are struggling to escape sex trafficking. But Team Hope is probably best known for is its Christmas Shoeboxes.

Niall Barry, Team Hope’s CEO, explains how this deceptively simple scheme works. “Simply root out a spare shoebox, wrap with Christmas paper, and fill with gifts for a child — something to write with, small hygiene items, small items of clothing, or a treat. Then include €4 to cover transportation costs.”

Mr Barry says that the Christmas box appeal has delivered Irish gift-filled shoeboxes to 2.6m children in 21 countries over the last 13 years. Children like 10-year-old Vladimir, for instance, who, for the first time in his young life, received some small items of clothing, soap, a watch, and, best of all, a harmonica.

Or one-year-old Anna from Romania, whose parents have Aids but who live far from a hospital and cannot afford the fare. Anna and her parents share a single room.

Her Christmas Shoebox contained a warm blanket, cosy PJs, Bob the Builder toys, and more. Seeing their daughter’s pleasure in her gifts brought her hard-pressed parents an in-comparable joy.

There are 300 drop-off points countrywide for the shoeboxes and an enormous number of volunteers who help to co-ordinate the scheme, year-round.

Sally Daly who lives in Skibbereen, Co Cork, is one such organiser.

So Sally, your work for this year is almost done. That must be a relief.! How long have you been organising Christmas Shoeboxes in this area?

>>“I started working with Team Hope 10 years ago. And although our date for collecting the boxes is up, we’re getting ready to start all over again. I speak to children in schools in the area. so that those who want to be involved can take their time over it.”

What was it that attracted you to volunteer? Had you done this sort of work before?

>>“No I never had. But I read one of Team Hope’s leaflets at a local school and I was hooked. I thought that it was such a lovely idea and so very simple, something we could all do. And yet it has such a huge impact.”

What happens when all the shoeboxes are covered in Christmas paper and filled with nice surprises?

>>“We have several different pick-up points. There’s simply no way any of this could be managed without the fantastic team of volunteers how help me though. We check all the boxes very carefully then the truck comes to pick the boxes up. They’re driven straight to the country they are destined for and they go right into the hands of a needy child. This is one reason why people are so supportive. They know the scheme works.”

What sort of response do you get from the people you meet when you visit the schools?

>>“Oh, it’s very good. I tell them a little bit about how poor some of the children are. I think it’s very hard for them to realise that there are children who will be getting nothing at all for Christmas this year, and that maybe these children never have had a Christmas present.”

Does it seem strange to the children you talk to that toothpaste and things like that could be regarded as presents?

>>“Yes it does. We wouldn’t think of soap or a new toothbrush as a gift but these things can be very important to children whose parents can’t afford them.

We encourage people to include a few items of personal hygiene, a toy, something to cuddle, pens and pencils for school, and perhaps something to wear. We’ve found over the years that sunglasses make a very popular gift. But there’s any amount of things that can be included.”

I believe you visited some families in Croatia to see for yourself how the scheme worked?

>>“I did and that trip made it very real for me. We visited families who lived in areas that were very poor and which were still mined after the war. Sometimes it was overwhelming. We went to one woman who had seven children.

“Her husband had died and there was nothing in their home, just piles of clothes in the corner. One of the little girls got a shoebox with sunglasses in it and she was so excited.

“She jumped up and down and squealed she was so happy. It was very moving and it made me realise that something so small can mean such a lot to a child.”

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Karen Walsh

Karen Walsh

Law of the Land


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