This season, many people across Ireland may not be feeling so festive. Some of us will wake to the usual cheer, run downstairs to presents, and eat a wholesome turkey roast. But for others, there will be empty spaces at the dinner table, and some will be spending Christmas in the hospital. The issues plaguing 2020 feel far from an end. However, something we all can do to help this Christmas is give hope. The happiness gained from packing a shoe box is through the act of giving, and this year in particular, in a time for charity.
Jonathan Douglas, this years’ Christmas shoebox appeal manager, spoke to me to explain exactly what these shoe boxes mean to those who receive them. “Normally we have 50 teams across the country in every county that would take in the shoeboxes, check them to make sure they are suitable for the children, and then transport them to the 13 different countries across Africa and Eastern Europe to children in impoverished communities”. While the shoebox making system is solely online for us in Ireland, the work conducted is immense. The non-profit organisation Team Hope have been working this appeal system since 2010, delivering to 13 poverty-stricken countries worldwide.
“For many children, this will be the only present they receive this year.”
Douglas explains the online process to me. “A shoebox will contain what we call the four W’s, something to write with, such as colouring pencils or a copy book, something to wear like hats, gloves or scarves, maybe a washing tool, such as a bar of soap, toothbrush, or toothpaste, and something to wow, like a teddy bear, a yoyo, or sunglasses.” For many children, this will be the only present they receive this year. Once you are on the Team Hope website, you will have the option to click onto a Christmas shoebox appeal button where you can choose your items for your box and see it being virtually built. You will be able to give your €20 donation, more if you choose to, and personalise your box with downloadable pictures to colour in and add, for a child to see. This is when the work is transferred over to Team Hope’s partners overseas, where they are already sourcing fillers for the shoeboxes and are busy building them to be delivered before Christmas, directly to communities.
“Growing up, I never heard the words ‘I love you’ from any of my friends, but then someone who lives far away- that I don’t even know- said they love me!”
Douglas describes these presents as “treasure boxes that the children keep forever”. One can only imagine the joy brought by these boxes, and now more than ever, they are a necessity for these kids. In Douglas’ words, they are “life-impacting and everlasting”, and we are lucky to be able to see their impacts through the stories shared by Team Hope. 11-year-old Kaneza from Burundi says: “I have no words really. They say actions speak louder than words, and you have really demonstrated it. Thank you!” Another story brought back from Team Hope is from a little girl called Anna. “Anna asked why someone would send her a gift. Her mother at the group home where she lives told her that it came from people who love her in Ireland.” Anna told Douglas that “growing up, I never heard the words ‘I love you’ from any of my friends, but then someone who lives far away, that I don’t even know, said they love me!” The emotions evoked from these simple acts of box building affect children’s parents and guardians also, sending joy in a time of desperate need.
As Covid-19 updates continue to proceed, Team Hope will know how many shoeboxes will be possible to build and the process will be undertaken safely overseas, according to the individual country’s guidelines. Under previous conditions, Team Hope has teams that work year-round. Students can get involved in the future by gathering fillers throughout the year and donating them to their local team. They can volunteer at checkout centres in their neighbourhood. Mostly, however, Douglas is encouraging us to “share, share, share” on social media and spread the word about the online process.
Speaking to Douglas, he said they had received their 10,000th shoe box online, but this is just the beginning — the appeal runs up until the 23rd of December. Those getting involved include over 2,000 volunteers, primary schools, secondary schools, and corporate companies. “There are so many people involved”, says Douglas, “it wouldn’t be possible without the supporters we have!”
Team Hope recently reached some incredible milestones. Last year the two millionth shoe box was gifted to a child and they also received their highest number of shoeboxes in one year at 270,488. Looking at these figures puts the act into perspective; something that can seem like such a small act of kindness can amount to something special.
“These boxes are based on Team Hope’s ethos of ‘compassion, social justice and the inherent value and dignity of all people.”
These boxes are based on Team Hope’s ethos of “compassion, social justice and the inherent value and dignity of all people, in line with these beliefs they ensure shoeboxes are given to children, based on need alone”. The ideals embodied in the act of shoebox gifting reminds us of what really matters this Christmas. With many situations we find ourselves dealing with around the country, these shoeboxes give us a reason to smile. And in times of hopelessness make us feel we are doing positive in our world, however small it may be. This year, let’s team up for Team Hope, as now more than ever, every box counts.