It’s Christmas present time in North Antrim

CHRISTMAS wrapping paper, loads of toys and lots of smiles are in evidence throughout North Antrim as one of the UK’s biggest annual children’s charity projects, Operation Christmas Child, gets ready for its busiest day of the year – November 18th.

That’s the final date for donors to hand in their gift–filled shoeboxes, which Operation Christmas Child then distributes to vulnerable children in over a dozen countries – and last year the total number of shoeboxes sent from the UK was over 1 million! This year the charity is asking for a sports item to be included, if possible, as 2012 will see the Olympic Games held in the UK.

“It’s a busy but brilliant time for us,” explains Linda Thompson, County Antrim Regional Manager of Operation Christmas Child, “with donations coming into us from all over including Ahoghill, Antrim, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Bushmills, Cloughmills, Crumlin, Cushendall, Glenavy,Larne, Lisburn, Portrush, Randalstown, Rasharkin and Templepatrick.

“We’ve a great team of volunteers who are out and about collecting shoeboxes from schools, churches, businesses and organisations or who are checking and packing the shoeboxes in our warehouses at Ballymena, Belfast, Lisburn and Randalstown for onward transportation to their destination.

“This year anyone who goes on-line to donate the £2.50 contribution we request towards promotion, processing, UK transportation and shipping will be able to print off a barcode slip to put inside their shoebox. We will scan this and when the shoebox has entered the distribution system we will send an e-mail to the donor to tell them the country to which their shoebox is going.

“It’s hectic and happy. We get to meet lots of local people – from school pupils to senior citizens – whose kindness makes such a huge difference to the children receiving their shoeboxes. Many of the children are in state-run homes, street shelters, orphanages or hospital or may be living with their families but facing real hardship in their daily lives. The smiles we see at this end from those donating the shoeboxes are matched at the other end when the youngsters open their shoebox – it’s a simple way for one person to help another.

“While we go all-out to collect the shoeboxes by November 18th, I’ve good news for anyone who may think they have ‘missed the boat’. After that date we will introduce Shoebox World which allows anyone to log onto our website and pick items to go into a shoebox and pay for these. We then put their selected items into a shoebox and make sure it gets to a needy child overseas.

“Right now, for suggestions of what to put in a shoebox see our website www.operationchristmaschild.org.uk or contact the Helpline on 0870 011 2002. The website also has a list of local Drop-Off Points where individuals can hand in their shoebox. Our volunteers then check the boxes prior to shipment to be sure they comply with customs requirements and that the contents are suitable for the children receiving them.

“All donors can be sure that their shoebox will be hugely appreciated by the child who receives it – every single shoebox really does make a positive difference.”

Operation Christmas Child is the biggest annual project run by Samaritan’s Purse, the evangelical Christian humanitarian aid charity. .