Yesterday we held our 'official' Launch for the Operation Christmas Child campaign in Maidenhead. Of course, a lot of work has already been going on in the area - schools, churches, community groups, businesses and individuals have all been working away gathering and filling their shoeboxes. This year I have the responsibility of arranging the shoebox collections in our local area and bringing them to the United Reformed Church in Maidenhead, which becomes a 'warehouse' where all the boxes are checked and packed into cartons.
The processing starts this week, and to mark this we usually bring together the volunteers who help in this valuable work at a 'launch'.
Before the start, the 'team' posed for the press photos...
... and I explained to the reporter what was going on whilst the others rushed about getting ready!
Then Maggie got things under way...
... and showed a moving DVD about the shoebox appeal.
She was so happy to see that our guest speaker, Dave Vann, PR and Publicity Manager from Samaritan's Purse (the relief organisation that runs Operation Christmas Child) had arrived, just in time to give his talk!
Dave went on to paint a very vivid picture of a visit he made to Swaziland, to distribute shoeboxes. He described how 2000 children were gathered together ready to receive their boxes. All of them waited in an orderly and well-behaved manner whilst the boxes were given out.
2000 children waited until the last child had received a box and then they were allowed to open them together! There were shouts and cries of joy and huge excitement as each child examined the gifts they had been given. What may seem to us like very small things were of great value to the children, to be treasured for weeks, months and years to come.
Dave described how many of the children had been orphaned due to HIV-aids, but were being cared for by the local church community. Two little boys he spoke to told how their sisters were away fetching water and carrying the heavy burden back to the village. As the girls arrived back, Dave tried to help share their burden and was amazed at the weight they had to carry for long distances. He went on to say how Samaritan's Purse is helping in other ways in the area by, for example, providing wells for clean drinking water, so that the young girls would not have to carry their load so far. This project is called 'Turn on the Tap' and is another of the major projects run by Samaritan's Purse.
Next it was my turn to impart some information about this year's campaign in Maidenhead.
These are the countries our shoeboxes will be sent to this year.
I also explained how this year, a new initiative to track where a shoebox is sent to is being offered to people who donate on-line to cover the cost of transporting their shoebox. For more info, go to https://occ.samaritans-purse.org.uk/donate.
And Lynne gave us the fantastic news that we will have a visit from a local BBC radio station for a live broadcast with Nikki Whiteman. This will be a great piece of publicity and will help us to boost our shoebox numbers!
We had a great turn-out of volunteer checkers, drivers and other warehouse workers, and we all enjoyed a chat over tea and cakes afterwards.
So now we are ready to start processing all those shoeboxes! This will keep us busy for the next 3-4 weeks, but we all came away from the launch with the feeling that we will do all we can to put a smile on the face of many children who would otherwise have nothing to bring them joy at Christmas.