THE figures are remarkable. The happiness brought by Operation Christmas Child [OCC] is incalculable. Last year more than 11 million children around the world who live in conditions of suffering and deprivation had a smile brought to their faces by a festive shoebox full of donated goodies.
Tonbridge alone sent 28,000 boxes to underprivileged youths in Swaziland and Eastern Europe.
This year, the Samaritans Purse International [SPI] hope to generate the same interest locally for the cause, and they would like your help.
It all started in 1990, when a family in Wrexham saw images of the dreadful conditions of children in orphanages in Romania which were shown on television after the country’s dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, fell from power.
The father and his friends decided to drive to the Eastern European country with vanloads of gifts for those suffering orphans. The following year, the family had the idea of sending gift-wrapped shoeboxes filled with practical gifts, one for each child.
Madeleine McClintock, an OCC volunteer in Tonbridge, said: “Every recipient could, for the first time in their lives, have something to call their own.
‘Every recipient could, for the first time in their lives, have something to call their own’
“Many people heard of this project and wanted to join in, and Operation Christmas Child was born.”
If you would like to take part in this extraordinary venture, simply obtain a lady’s size shoebox, cover it with wrapping paper, fill it with a few pieces of stationery such as pens and paper, some hygiene items, a woolly hat or similar, and a toy.
Add £5 for postage, put an elastic band round it and take it to a drop-off point, such as a Shoe Zone in Tonbridge High Street’s Pavilion Centre, from November 1 to 18.
Madeleine said: “Recently a lady from Central Asia told me that she had been delivering a course on family health, but one mother exclaimed that she and her five children only had one toothbrush amongst them. This is not uncommon in many poor families around the world. Ash and sticks are used instead.
“Shortly after this, a consignment of OCC boxes arrived containing – among other items – toothbrushes. Each member of the family could now have their own toothbrush, and the pens and paper in the box could enable other children to attend school.”
Madeleine added: “In 2005 I was invited to go to Mozambique to help distribute shoeboxes. I watched hundreds of children in one school line up to receive their OCC boxes, then sit in the dust until the teacher counted down: Three, two, one… The lids came off, the ecstatic shouts filled the air!
“Why not have the fun of joining in by packing a shoebox yourself?”
Helpful information, for example about how to pack a shoebox and find drop-off points, and details of other projects run by the SPI and OCC such as Raising Families, can be found on the website www.samaritans-purse.org.uk/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child
Shoebox drop-off points
High Street TN1 1UT
Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 10.30am-6.30pm
85 Prospect Road, Southborough TN4 0EG
Mon, Thur, Fri 9am-1pm
Tunbridge Wells Baptist Church
Upper Grosvenor Road TN1 2EP
Tonbridge Baptist Church
Dareth Avenue TN10 3HZ
Mon-Fri 9am-4.30pm and some evenings,
Sun 9.30-11.30am and 6pm-8pm
5 Pavilion Centre, High Street TN9 1TE
Mon-Sat 9am-5.30pm, Sun 10am-4pm
St John’s Church Hall, Hildenborough
Tonbridge Road TN11 9HR
Mon, Tue, Thur, Fri 9am-12noon