Shoeboxes of love

Twenty years ago Dave Cooke, a Wrexham businessman, watched with horror the heart rendering television footage of children abandoned in Romania’s grim and loveless orphanages.

What he saw affected him profoundly. Within the space of seven weeks he roused the entire Wrexham community; managing to collect a staggering £600,000 of aid.

He collected bedding, baby baths, tinned milk and toys. Amongst the aid were a few decorated shoe boxes filled with small gifts, ‘because daddy it’s Christmas time and the children won’t have anything to open’.

Operation Christmas Child was born.

Twenty years on, OCC reaches out to around seven million children across the globe. Children whose lives have been so disaffected by war, poverty or ethnic intolerance that we can barely begin to imagine the appalling conditions in which many of them exist.

And local organisers in the Isle of Man reckon that Manx donations are among the most generous.

Although nearly all the schools and many businesses take part, however, the search continues to find more donations.

The shoeboxes are collected throughout the British Isles and taken to Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia where they are distributed by a team of volunteers, led by a member of the OCC staff.

They are given to any child who is suffering regardless of race or religion.

One OCC team reported the following:

‘We were taken to a place where street children were living. We were told that if the police saw us the children would be beaten.

‘We climbed down a hole into the pitch black; part of the cities underground heating system.

‘Six or seven children were perched half way up; their backs pressed against the heating pipes.

‘They had a choice either to be outside where they may freeze to death or be underground were they were almost burning.

‘Two of the boys were brothers; one had a raw scar running across his hand. His mother had tried to cut his hand off so that he could be put in the home for invalids. ‘Unbelievably they felt safer on the streets existing by scavenging or begging for food.’

Operation Christmas Child is aware that a single shoebox will not change lives, but for a brief moment these children will know that somebody somewhere is thinking of them.

To be given anything, a pair of gloves, a hat and some sweets, will be a new experience for many of these children; maybe the only gift of love they have ever received.

The contrast between the lives of these children and our own at home is vast.

These children are so grateful to be given anything they often just clasp the shoe box not even realising there is anything inside.

Marlene Akitt, area co-ordinator and registered volunteer of OCC was part of a distribution team to Kosova in 2007.

‘I watched one little girl open her shoe box,’ she recalled.

‘It contained one doll, one hat, scarf and gloves, one set of crayons, one colouring book, one tin of sweets and a wash bag with toothpaste, soap and flannel.

‘She couldn’t believe they were all for her. In amongst the gifts were a card and a picture of the little girl who had sent it.

‘She hugged this photo to her,.

‘”My family”, she said.’  More here.