Sunday 22 December 2019

Give Love In A Box - Teams4u Christmas Shoe Box Charity Appeal

Tis the Season for even more giving! 🎅🎄🎁

It's Christmas time again and I think back on my childhood growing up in London in the 80's and 90's distinctly remembering the excitement bubbling in the pit of my 8 year old stomach after seeing neatly packaged presents (usually in red wrapping paper and with reindeers dotted all over it) nestled snuggly at the bottom of the Christmas tree (when we still had one up) along with all the other mysterious wrapped shapes that were also for my two sisters. We would often look at the name tags, to see how many presents we had that year - we pretty much were guaranteed to get the main present we wanted and more .

There was never just one present and I cannot be dishonest and say we ever went without on Christmas Day. When you've always been privileged to be in a position where you've had what you've wanted, pretty much most of the time, its difficult to have perspective as a child to those thousands in the world who go without at Christmas, having never received a present at all....

Photo: Ziz York, Teams4u

Lets fast forward nearly thirty years. Of course Christmas is not just about giving presents, its really about the warmth of love and community. Everyday of the year I think we should always be showing love and the act of giving to others, but even more so at Christmas when the reality of people's situation can hit them even harder than usual - especially vulnerable children.

It was last Christmas that I was reawakened to the forgotten idea of the ever present Shoebox Appeals in conversation with a friend who is half Ukrainian. Funny how you get onto these subjects, but she told me she had recently sent a 'care box' to a vulnerable family in the Ukraine through a charitable Christmas appeal. My ears pricked up and my eyes glowed - what a kind idea of a simple shoebox for Christmas and I could do it too!  

I researched into charities who did shoebox appeals and found Teams4u a welsh based charity that had been taking pure 'boxes of love' out to vulnerable children and families living in impoverished communities in Eastern Europe for over twenty years.  

You just needed to get an empty shoebox (Mens Size 7/8 is pretty good and plug in to Clarkes, who were very generous with their empty shoeboxes), wrap the box and lid in funky wrapping paper, pick to do a home box or which gender and age you would like to make a box for and fill it with useful necessities like soap (in a holder is useful), wash cloth, toothbrush (in a holder too), toothpaste, comb/hair brush, hat, gloves and then let your inner child imagination run wild!

My box for a lucky 6-11 year old boy filled to the brim with as much as I could fit in!

I convinced a couple of friends to join me in my Christmas shoebox mission which actually was so much fun going on an afternoon shopping spree to go find some fun treats for a boy aged 6-11. You may think that doing a Christmas shoebox has to be expensive or you're ashamed by the idea of giving them 'cheap' things from the UK - some of the children Teams4u have supported over the years may never have had a Christmas present in their life and your shoebox may be the only gift they ever get, showing that someone from far away cares about them. You can pickup plenty of things, toys, puzzles, colouring books, stationary in budget and discount shops in the UK, make the most of Christmas and New Years sales and even put a part of your inner child in the box too - what did you like as a kid? for me - boys stuff! 

There are of course some obvious things you can't put in like food (sweets are okay), medicine, military themed toys, sharp objects and Harry Potter novels! (well just english reading books in general) which you can see on the shoebox guidelines and can get some great ideas from shoebox videos.  


Depending on how generous you want to be or what is within your means, the minimum on average you could spend on filling a box is about £20 - so if you can spare that on coffee or beer in a year, of course you can help with a box!

Christmas Shoebox Appeals

There are many Christmas Shoebox appeals that have come under scrutiny and possible defamation over the years by criticism, pocked with negative viewpoints and opinions on their effect on the benefactors. Some have been accused of 'brainwashing' vulnerable children with evangelical literature being placed inside the boxes without donors knowledge. Many have criticised the schemes as detrimental, claiming to not holding any long term solutions to a countries economic or political strife or the increasing populations of impoverished children.

I think you have to look at a wider perspective compared to our lives in the western world. High birth rates can be attributed to many factors - religion, culture and lack of education in rural areas all can influence the poverty population of an Eastern European country aswell as lack of government funding and welfare support.

Photo: Ziz York, Teams4u

  • Those who follow Orthodox Catholicism are not in the belief of using birth control or may not even have the means or access to it. 
  • Ingrained culture of a society may see it as a blessing or good fortune to have large families or some simply to have the security of caretakers to go out to work and support the family unit.  
  • Women and girls may be encouraged to have traditional roles and only know a life of marriage and child bearing as their sole purpose over multiple generations. 
  • The parents may have a ignorant view to negligence of their children and their welfare

However you feel about swelling poverty numbers or international aid, yes it might not solve all of their problems in the long term, but I don't think innocent children should be punished or go without at Christmas because of circumstances out of their control. 

I think its better to make them smile and feel a glint of brightness and confidence from their bleak world for one day through our generosity, kindness and compassion at Christmas than nothing at all. 

And if you can make that happen with a simple gift of a shoebox than why not? 

That's how I feel anyway.

So once the boxes are packed to the brim with goodies, (kinda neatly wrapped) and a donation of £2.50 popped in to help cover distribution costs (it gets sent anyway even if you don't), you have to take them to one of the charities drop-off locations closest to you. They are all run by volunteers and can be churches, schools, sports centres, shops in different areas of the UK who have certain drop off dates usually starting at the beginning of November. The nearest was Loughton in Essex so made a day of it heading out of the city to make the drop off at Loughton Methodist Church.

Found the chapel! its a good idea to look up drop off locations before you do a box to see if you're willing to travel to the nearest one, it can actually turn into an excuse for an adventure going to a new place!

First boxes in! Feeling the angelic vibes just walking into the church bringing three little boxes of love with me fizzled through my body ha! 

Getting them in nice and early doesn't hurt and within the two-week collecting period, the church would be expecting about two-thousand boxes being dropped off! They'd take over the church completely like a tidal wave of christmas shoe boxes flooding to the altar - but no, they would be moved to the warehouse next door to be sorted with a cursive check over and have anything inappropriate taken out or if the box isn't full enough, more things would be added.

I was pretty confident that my friends and I's boxes couldn't possibly have anymore added as we struggled to get the lids on with the amount of goodies inside!

I think we passed the generosity test - as self righteous as that sounds (and it probably does)

So once you've dropped your boxes off, your part is done and all the boxes from around the UK go off on their own journey to a central warehouse in Wales to be packed into an export wagon and taken across Europe to be distributed to impoverished communities in Romania, Moldova and Belarus.

Teams4u's Christmas Shoebox Appeal 2019 raked in an all time high of 63,778 boxes that's 12,463 more generous souls and children receiving a present for Christmas than the year before!

    Photo: Ziz York, Teams4u

Look at the joy it gives them - this may be the only present they ever receive and how much your generosity can reach beyond borders and affect their lives and confidence receiving a bit of love in a box. I heard one story that a little girl was so overwhelmed with her box that she hid it and didn't take anything out for a long time in fear of someone taking it. That's how much a simple shoe box from us is valued so much by their little hearts.

I think about what little boy received my box, what he might look like, where he is from, I will never know the mystery of my boxes fate but knowing that somewhere out there, you've made a poor little boy in need smile and brightened their day at Christmas.

And that's the best Christmas present of all I think.

If you would like to do something awesome and help with your own box of love to a Christmas Shoebox Appeal and aid impoverished children and families in Eastern Europe check out Teams4u and Link to Hope for next Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2020!


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