By Fiona Lee
With businesses in peril as cases of Covid-19 have begun to soar once again, more and more people have been, strangely, talking about Christmas shopping.
Every year, however, it is around now that people usually start gathering toys, hats and toothbrushes to make up a Christmas Shoebox, as part of Team Hope’s Christmas Shoebox Appeal. Thankfully, despite this pandemic, the appeal will be operating fully online this year.
If you are not familiar with their initiative, Team Hope usually invites the public to make up shoeboxes filled with gifts for vulnerable children in Africa and Eastern Europe. They are delivered straight into the hands of children affected by poverty. These shoeboxes are often the only gift that these children will receive at Christmas, and the joy that they deliver is amazing. My mother started me off making shoeboxes as a child, and I remember her mentioning that one volunteer told her that a boy screamed with delight when he got his shoebox, and then fainted when he realised there were things inside it. The impact these gifts have on children with virtually nothing cannot be overstated.
Alan McElwee, Team Hope’s Business Development Manager, told SIN about necessary changes this year due to the pandemic.
“A lot has changed this year. Because of restrictions, we have had to completely change how we approach the Christmas Shoebox Appeal. We are doing it completely online this year.”
“So, what that means is, instead of asking our donors to give a gift–filled shoebox, we will be asking them to donate €20 online to our website, teamhope.ie. We are working with 12 partners overseas. They, on behalf of the donor, are going to assemble and distribute shoeboxes to the children in local communities in their countries.”
Team Hope have tried to make the process of making a box online just as fun as putting it together yourself with their new interactive website.
“What we have tried to do is replicate some of the personal engagement and choice people can have even when they’re donating online. Much of the feedback is that people really enjoy picking out gift items to put in their shoebox, so to try to replicate that a bit, we made it interactive on the website. Donors online will be able to select certain items from a pick list that they might like to have as part of their donations.”
To put together a shoebox, you must think of these four categories:
Something to Wear, Something to Wash with, Something to Write with, and Something to wow them with like toys and teddies.
The website lets you go through each category and you can pick three things to put in per category. Examples include toothbrushes, face clothes, socks, teddies, copy books, crayons, a woolly hat, scarves, a bouncy ball and so much more.
“They can also upload a picture or a message of some kind because we know that donors really like to personalise their shoebox donation, and there is still an element of that with the online donation process.”
Despite Team Hope’s centres being closed due to the pandemic, Alan says volunteers are still working hard to raise funds for this year’s shoeboxes, as well as schools and companies.
“Our former volunteers have been extremely supportive! A lot of them are thinking now of what they can do locally, in terms of running fundraisers for Team Hope to fund even more shoebox donations this year.”
“A number of schools continue their support this year too, even though it’s a difficult time for teachers. They are thinking about how they can involve their class in helping Team Hope and vulnerable children.”
“There is lots of support from corporates as well, we have been speaking to a number of businesses in Galway, including Medtronic, KPMG and Aviva, their staff are going to get involved.”
“So while it’s been a lot of change in terms of how we are going to re-engineer the Shoebox Appeal, it seems to still have a relevance, and I think people appreciate that as tough as we have it in Ireland, and clearly it has been tough on us, the impact is even greater for our partners living overseas, living in very underdeveloped communities and countries where the healthcare system is just not there at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic.”
“They don’t have the same possibilities for social distancing and isolation, and if they don’t work one day, they don’t get any pay and then they don’t have anything for food or education. We are very grateful for the continued support.”
Retired volunteers are still able to get involved despite needing to cocoon by coming together and setting up ‘Super Knitters’ groups. They have been making soft toys and little figures since the summer!
One blessing that has come from this new set up is that Team Hope have been able to push the deadline for donations back by more than a full month.
“The deadline in terms of donation is the 23rd of December. In previous years it has been in November, but we can go on later this year and continue working with our partners into the New Year. For some of our partners, Christmas can be on different dates, especially in Eastern Europe. We just wanted to give people in Ireland the best opportunity to donate, even coming into Christmas week, and to stagger the making of shoeboxes out for our overseas partner as well.”
To donate and make your virtual shoebox, go to teamhope.ie.