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Teddy ready, so boxes can go; Christmas gifts from region are on their way to youngsters in Eastern Europe BOXING CLEVER.

Byline: Alix Pickles

THOUSANDS of shoeboxes full of Christmas gifts are winging their way to poor children in Eastern Europe.

The Christmas gift boxes have been donated to Operation Christmas Child by children in South Tyneside, Gateshead and Sunderland.

Operation Christmas Child asks people to load the shoeboxes with small Christmas gifts for deprived children all over the world.

And this year's appeal in the North East had by Friday gathered a staggering 9,251 boxes filled with gifts such as sweets, toys and puzzles.

The mountain of festively wrapped boxes were on Tuesday loaded from a couple of storage units in Hebburn onto a truck to begin a 1,700 mile journey to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where they will be given to underprivileged children.

It takes a team of 45 dedicated volunteers and 2,000 sq ft of warehouse space to sort through and package up all the shoeboxes.

When the boxes arrive volunteers check the contents, make sure that every box has a packet of sweets and a Christmas card and then safely package them up for shipping.

Carol Hall, area coordinator for South Tyneside, Gateshead and the SR6 postal area in Sunderland, has been working with the project for 24 years.

Carol said: "Our boxes have gone to Belarus for many years now. Although we didn't know until late on this year that they would be going to Belarus again because of the recent unrest in Western Europe.

"We know that all the boxes go to a good home. The children are desperate for even basic items. This is the only Christmas gift they will get this year.

"Our children here are so lucky. A big part of the project is children giving gifts to other children who aren't as fortunate as them. We go into schools to talk to them about the project. I think the project teaches them to be caring.

"This year we are asking the pupils to include a photo and a letter telling the children in Belarus a bit about themselves. It makes it more personal. We address the letters 'to an unknown friend', to let the child receiving the box know that someone is thinking about them."

Operation Christmas Child was established as a charity in 1990 after Dave Cook, a father of four from North Wales started an appeal to send toys to children in Romanian orphanages.

Five years later the shoe box appeal started when Operation Christmas Child joined forces with Samaritan's Purse.

The shoeboxes are for children aged 214 and are usually filled with things like cuddly toys, skipping ropes, stationary, balls and plastic toys.

For many it becomes an all year round project with volunteers buying and stockpiling items such as pencils when they are on offer in the shops.

Here in the North East a team of volunteers kicked off the appeal in September by visiting 135 schools in the area to talk to pupils about the appeal.

They asked the children what they were expecting to unwrap on Christmas day and talked about why the children receiving the shoe boxes are delighted with simple things like paper and pens.

St Joseph's Catholic Academy Sixth Form, Hebburn have donated PS60 on top of sending in shoeboxes to contribute towards the cost of postage. It costs PS3 to send each box abroad and not all boxes sent in come with this added donation.

Lorry's filled with the shoeboxes will be departing from Hebburn on Tuesday 1 boxes are being taken in right up until that morning.

You can drop your shoebox off at either the warehouse in Holystone Industrial Estate, off Argyle Street, Hebburn, between 9.15am and 3.30pm, Monday to Friday, or at Shoe Zone in Viking Shopping Centre, Jarrow.

| If you don't have time to go out |shopping and donate a box locally you can also build a box online at www.shoeboxworld.co.uk The Box You will need an empty mediumsized shoebox to put your items in and some festive, brightly coloured wrapping paper.

Prewrapped boxes are available to buy from your local Operation Christmas Child coordinators. The money you spend will go towards the cost of shipping. Much easier than buying a new pair of shoes!

Essentials A good start is to provide the basic hygiene items and school supplies, which are regarded as luxuries by many children in need.

Such as: a bar of soap, wash cloth, toothbrush, hairbrush, pencils, pencil sharpener and notebook.

Something special Include something fun like colouring pencils and a colouring pad, a skipping rope, ball or cuddly toy. You can also add accessories such as gloves, scarves and children's jewellery sets.

What not to include Items such as perishable foods, liquids and sharp objects are unsuitable for mailing and will be removed from boxes.

For a full list of suitable items visit www.samaritanspurse.org.uk/whatwedo/operation-christmaschild/ Wrapping If you are wrapping your shoebox yourself don't forget to wrap the box and it's lid separately so that the volunteers can double check the contents.

Helping your box get to its destination If you can then add a PS3 donation to help your box get to its destination.

Drop off your box at the warehouse in Holystone Industrial Estate, off Argyle Street, Hebburn, between 9.15am and 3.30pm, Monday to Friday.

The volunteers will do the rest, your box is in safe hands!

Feel Good And finally take a moment to feel good. Your box will travel thousands of miles and be delivered directly into the hands of a very grateful child, bringing a dose of festive cheer to the children in Minsk, Belarus.

CAPTION(S):

Volunteers pack gifts into the shoeboxes

Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are packed in Hebburn by volunteers Carol Hall, Christine Jones and Trish Octon Emily Carey
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 2, 2015
Words:969
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