Operation Christmas

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At this time of year schools, businesses and organisations come together to ensure that children, who may not have very much, can have a present at Christmas. Some people support Operation Christmas Child and Samaritans Purse by filling Christmas shoe boxes with useful and fun goodies that are shipped to a child in another country. Once your shoe box has been handed over, volunteers are needed to prepare the boxes for shipping. I went to a warehouse on an industrial estate in Ashton to continue my volunteering adventure and to give the shoeboxes a helping hand on their long journey. Some shoeboxes are dropped off by the makers and others arrive via a van that has been out collecting. The shoeboxes come in from the van and go to be checked initially. Some poor boxes go to the hospital table to be patched up if their paper is ripped. They then go onto pallets where volunteers at tables collect them to check they don’t have liquids in or anything that customs won’t allow. Due to the countries that will be receiving the shoe boxes it is essential that there aren’t any war toys in the boxes or in some cases chocolate can’t be sent. It is important to keep the boxes as true as possible to how the person has lovingly compiled it but there may be something in there that customs won’t allow or an item missing which would add to the box such as a hat or gloves for a cold country. I headed to the checking production line to do my volunteering for the afternoon.

Sue, a retired nurse who has volunteered for the past 6 years at the warehouse, was my companion on the production line. As we worked Sue explained that my different people came to volunteer from those who are retired, to groups from businesses such as banks and the scouts who come in the evening to pack the lorries that come to take away the completed boxes to the different countries. We checked each box, adding and removing items only if necessary and sealing the boxes ready to be put in larger boxes for the lorries when they arrive. Opening the boxes was a real privilege and it was moving to see the generosity and care that had gone into each box. I noticed that many of the boxes were marked as for a girl aged between 5 and 9 years old. Sue confirmed that they get more boxes for girls and less for boys and the older age range. That is a theme throughout the charities collecting toys for Christmas that the older children/young people are less catered for.

The boxes contain practical things such as soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, alongside sweets, pens and paper, hats, hair clips and toys. We were packing for Zambia while I was there and Sue told me that some people make up boxes for grandmothers who are often caring for the children because their mothers have died from AIDS. Some people add needles and thread to the boxes for the grandmothers so that they can mend clothes. The boxes are so lovingly put together each with their own interpretations the instructions. Some with a Christmas card inside, a letter or in one case a photograph of the family who has given the box. It made me particularly moved when I saw little clothes for some reason. I checked a box that was for a boy of my son’s age and I felt happy that another little boy somewhere in Zambia was going to get a nice present for Christmas.

Volunteering is on a drop in basis and each year you can drop in for an hour, a whole day or even everyday if you want. The packing and sorting can get very addictive and is a lovely way to spend an afternoon particularly as I was singing along to Tameside Radio that was playing from a nearby radio throughout the warehouse. If you have managed to get a gift for a toy appeal or a tin for the food bank then well done you, if you are thinking of doing a shoebox next year then remember the older children and the boys when you prepare your boxes. The warehouse has now done its job for another year and the boxes are on their way; each of them a generous and thoughtful offering for a child a long way away.