Operation Christmas Child's Shoebox Appeal is in Full Swing! Have you got your shoebox yet?
With eleven, yes eleven weeks until Christmas!.. You might be forgiven for thinking its too early to think about tinsle, cards, wrapping and presents! But not if you are co-ordinating the Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child appeal for the Bath area! Find out why David and Pat Dawson, the Bath District Co-ordinators are urging us to start thinking about our shoeboxes now!
(PICTURES: SHOEBOX!, OPERATION CHRISTMAS CHILD LOGO, ST SAVIOUR'S CHURCH, KNITTED TOYS, ST SAVIOUR'S, COFFEE POT, A TOOTHBRUSH & A WRITING PAD)
How long have you been co-ordinating Operation Christmas Child for Bath?
Our official area is BA1, BA2 and BA3. BA3 includes Radstock and Midsomer Norton and includes the city of Bath. This is our sixth year, we helped our predecessors who did it from early 1990s for around 14 years.
Is it a lot of work?
It is quite a lot of work, it has evolved really from when we took it on. Originally it was all on paper and now communication by email is great and has really helped with making arrangments for collections from schools.
Who makes the shoebox appeal happen in Bath each year?
Each year there is a big team of volunteers and registered volunteers with Samaritan's Purse. This is divided into three groups of people; registered volunteers, volunteers who physically help processing the shoeboxes and supporters, who organise things in their local schools and churches.
We also have knitters who knit items for the appeal (soft toys aren't allowed - check this link for knitting patterns - or pick one up from the Abbey). (The difference with registered volunteer is that they are signed up with Samaritan's Purse to perform a particular task).
At our level we have coordinators, speakers - who speak at events about the appeal - and drivers.
How did you come to get involved originally?
A couple of years before we took over one there was an appeal for people in our church, Bath Abbey to give the shoebox appeal a bit of a lift. There were several volunteers and one of the administrators at the abbey was keen on Operation Christmas Child. At the same time a letter from the previous co-ordinators asking for help with the admin came and we thought well, we could do that. It evolved from there.
Are you well supported in the city?
We have terrific support from so many organisations across the city with everything from the processing of the filled shoeboxes - which takes place in November to the driving! People from so many different churches help. St John's in Bathwick let us have the newer large part of the church for sorting/processing and we can set up our processing and leave it all there. They love us being there doing what we do. They are very supportive. It's our fifth year there.
The processing is a lovely occasion, something like 150 volunteers helped last year. The same people don't come every day - we have morning and afternoon sessions counting that with drivers.
There are currently 217 volunteers to be precise on our list! It's lovely that so many people give such time and help.
So things have grown since you took over?
Yes in our first year we did in church halls and had a big increase in the number of boxes we received and only just managed to do it. We were asked to take on more by our area people; to do more of the processing and collection and now it worked wonderfully. We borrow tables from one church and process in another - it could be called a cross church event. The Abbey photocopies for us and we have a display in there.
At the moment people can collect a shoebox from the Abbey before it becomes a drop off point in November. The Abbey also acts as a signpost for people who have knitted something and don't know what to do with it, St Luke's has been a processing centre in the past and is now a drop off point. Members of its congregation help and lend us the coffee pot - essential for processing time! St Alphege's used to lend tables, now a community group in Woolley, churches in Swainswick and Southdown are lending tables this year.
Which churches are drop off points for filled boxes?
St Phillips, Ascension, Bath City Church, The Abbey, Holy Trinity, St Saviours rectory and St Stephens churches. There are a raft of commercial premises acting as drop off points too. They are good because they have longer hours.
So how do I get started in supporting the appeal?
If you need a shoebox pop into The Abbey and collect one. There is a display explaining what the appeal is. Ladies' shoeboxes are what's needed.
Shoezone in Moorland Road is one of the supporting shops. It has a link with Samaritans Purse and Operation Christmas Child - and they are not only happy to give out shoeboxes but part of a scheme. With every pair of shoes sold a leaflet is handed out.
How was your recent appeal launch in September at St Michael's?
It was lovely! St Michael's is a really wonderful place to have it. A lot of our knitters came with knitting and joined in the knitting circle. They did croche, fleece hats and scarves.
The big attraction was Richard Pickett who was demonstrating covering a box with wrapping paper! He did a huge number beforehand and we sold them for £1, with proceeds going to the appeal.
We had our Olympic stand and dummy boxes with a velcro seal for children aged 5, 6 and 7, we encouraged people to open them putting themselves into the mind of a child receiving Christmas presents for the first time.
What would you say to anyone without a shoebox yet?
Have a look at the website and click on the real stories, they show you firsthand the impact of receiving a Christmas present for the first time in your life. When people go out and distribute them to the children they come home with lovely stories.
Where will our shoeboxes go this year?
We don't decide where they go, last year shoeboxes from here went to Serbia, Belarus and The Ukraine. Last year's early snow made life very difficult in terms of organising transport. Cold country destinations are most likely for this year too - many kids in orphanages.
Distributing teams always take a pastor to look after the members of the team who can get distressed.
How does the processing work?
We have tables with four people on them who have to look very carefully at each box. Nothing is taken out unless its something on the charity's 'No List'. The two main reasons for shoebox checking are for that any cash donations have to be removed for Operation Christmas Child. And of course customs of some countries do forbid things, war-like items, liquids and pointed objects are removed.
Shoexboxes have quite a bit of space and then the knitted items by our lovely ladies; hand puppets etc and other gifts are used to top up boxes. Stationary items and hygiene items are handy top ups too - if you lived in an orphanage and shared a toothbrush you'd be pleased to have your own!
Some previous contributors gave us bags with so-called 'top up' stationary items which are really useful.
Finally, the boxes are taped with special Samaritan's Purse cellotape, put into a cardboard carton labelled boy or girl and then head for Melksham and the lorries abroad.
Samaritan's Purse has ten partners in different countries and the items are distributed by partners in each country before being handed directly to the child. In an orphanage ususally each child waits until everone has a shoebox, before a countdown; 10 to one happens and they open them together.
We've heard wonderful reports of children sharing items from their box with their brother or sister.
When you collect your shoebox please take a leaflet which gives information about using a sticker showing if its for a boy/girl, the age group, and tells about paying a donation on line of £2.50 towards transport. If you pay online a sticker will be put into the box and we will retrieve and eventualy you will be told where your box goes.