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Christmas shoeboxes

Sunday, 24 September 2017

I hope you can forgive the Christmas-themed post. It's less than 100 days away, which to some people means hitting all the panic buttons and freaking out about whether there's enough chairs in the house to have everyone round on Christmas day. But for me I have to think about Christmas things a bit early as I make Christmas shoeboxes for a charity called Link to Hope, and they ask for the shoeboxes to arrive at their warehouse by early November!

I first came across Link to Hope a few years ago. I wanted to do a charity shoebox but didn't want to go through the Operation Christmas Child programme, due to some of the more problematic things I've read about them (I won't go in to it here, but if Google it then you'll find plenty of other websites discussing it). I found someone else on a forum asking the same question, and Link to Hope was mentioned in the replies. They state on their website that they will give a shoebox to anyone, regardless of religion, belief or creed, and they do not hand out any literature with their shoeboxes. They do use churches as community spaces in some areas, but they also use schools, village halls and any other large building that can accommodate the people that arrive to collect a box.

This year is especially exciting for me as I've finally been able to volunteer as an Area Collector! These are people who act as a drop off point for shoeboxes in their local area, and I haven't seen one this far out in Essex before! I've already had one person phone me to check I'm happy to accept them, and I'm hoping more will want to join in as we get closer to the November deadline!
Just need some winter woolies

What do you include in a shoebox?
Link to Hope, who I do shoeboxes for, have two types - family and elderly. Nothing is divided by age or gender, so you can't pick "nine year old girl" or "two year old boy", but it does mean that you can fit a big variety of things in. The people that receive the shoeboxes are from areas that have few work opportunities, and winter is a struggle between earning enough money for food and get some heating, so simple things like toiletries and school supplies become a luxury rather than a need.

There's basics that you put in every shoebox; toiletries such as shampoo, soap and showergel, sweets and chocolate, plasters, tissues, and winter woolies including hats and gloves and warm socks. Then you have extra items depending on which group your box is going to. Additions to family shoeboxes include school supplies such as a notebook, pens, pencils and rulers, a small cuddly toy, and some little toys or games. For elderly ones you can include a nice mug, a cloth shopping bag, reading glasses, and a small pack of dominoes or some playing cards.

Can you include freebie items you've got?
As long as they're unopened (in the case of toiletries) then of course you can collect freebies throughout the year to include in your shoeboxes! I recently got a free tote bag from TK Maxx for signing up with their "Treasures" programme, I already have more tote bags than you can shake a stick at, so I've folded this one up for one of my elderly boxes.

Next year I'm planning on keeping a better eye out for things I can collect for free that will go in the shoeboxes. Having a few extra little things to include is nice, but only as long as they're useful and in good condition. Don't just chuck in a load of sample facemasks that you don't want to use. But if you travel frequently and pick up the little packets of wrapped soaps in hotels then you can include those. If you have a subscription box for things like stationery that you know will just sit in a drawer for years, then you can build up a nice little collection of pencils and notepads that can be added to bulk out empty space.

My best buys
Since I try to collect things throughout the year I generally manage to put my shoeboxes together a bit cheaper than buying everything in one go in October. I also like to bulk buy things that I can then split across several years of shoeboxes, I recently bought 15 small bouncy balls off a party supply shop on eBay. These normally go in giftbags for kids parties, but I've put two each in my family shoeboxes and that still leaves me with 11 to be split across the next few years!

I managed to buy two really nice tin pencil cases for £1.50 each from The Works, along with colouring pencils from Tiger for £1 a pack, and I got some lovely Crayola felt tip pens from Wilko for £2 during their "Back to School" sales. I picked up two mugs from Waitrose at £1.50 each when they were having a sale, one for each elderly shoebox. They're a lovely bright blue and really thick, my husband used to have one (that was eventually dropped on the kitchen floor) that survived several house moves so they're really good quality.

Things you can't send
Obviously there are also things that, for customs and safety purposes, can't be included in shoeboxes. Medicines is the obvious one, no cough syrup or paracetemol or anything like that (but first aid items such as plasters are very useful and can be included). You also can't send any seeds, which is a real shame as it would be helpful to give people help in growing their own food where possible. You also can't include any books or literature, so no children's books or guide books or pamphlets.

If you want to create your own shoebox for the charity then you can find more information on their website, and a list of Area Collectors can be found here!

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