The story of the Christmas Shoeboxes at Halmer End started about 23 years ago. Ann Moore, with two other ladies from our Church, Barbara Colley and Molly Ashford, set about making some Christmas Shoeboxes for children who would never have had any presents for Christmas were it not for a gift of a shoebox. That first year they made up 25 shoeboxes. Over the years the team of helpers has grown. Anne Smith and her husband Phil joined the team shortly after Ann, Barbara and Molly had started making up the shoeboxes. As the team of helpers grew so did the number of people who were knitting and crocheting items for the boxes. Now it has become a continuous programme with people working and buying items all through the year to have stock available to fill the boxes.
In 2023 the team completed 361 shoeboxes (2022: 367) for deprived children overseas and in the UK. These were then transported to Teams4U who distribute the shoeboxes. You can see more about the work of Teams4U on their web site www.teams4u.com.
Before the team start the task of filling the shoeboxes the boxes themselves have had to be acquired and covered with Christmas wrapping paper. The empty shoeboxes are donated by Farmers shoe shop in Newcastle. The owner kindly holds on to the empty boxes which are collected weekly by Ken Moore, Ann's husband. Ann then spends evenings during the year wrapping these boxes in Christmas paper, rolls of which are either donated or bought by the team, in readiness for the shoebox filling in November each year.
Throughout the year people have been getting items together for the shoeboxes and buying gifts to go inside the boxes. Then comes the day when all these items are brought together into the hall for the task of making up the boxes.
It is like a military operation during the week before Remembrance Sunday when the Church Hall is filled with tables on which are the goods for each shoebox.
Figures 1 – 4 below are the scenes from our 2019 shoebox operation. Just look at the scene when they started, Figures 1 and 2. All those gifts, big and small, separated out for girls and boys in different age groups. The team would begin work a few days before Remembrance Sunday to set out the tables forming a big square around the room, filling the tables with shoebox contents collected during the year. They would then work all of Remembrance Sunday on selecting the gifts for each box making sure that every box for each girl or boy had the same or similar contents – different contents of course for the girls and the boys. What a task! All done with Christian love.
The tables are now set up in four rows; one row is for 3 – 5 year-olds, a second row is for 6 – 11 year-olds, a third row is for 12+ children and the fourth row is for the 'Homeboxes' which are for the mums, only recently requested by Teams4U.
One end of each row is for the boys and the other end is for the girls; in this photo the boys' contents are in the background and the girls' are in the foreground. The team have found this to be more organised rather than how they used to do it with the tables arranged in a big square as seen in the previous photos; Figures 1 – 4. It only took about 19 years to come up with that plan, which is down to team member, Mary Gibson! See Figures 5 – 11 of the 2023 shoebox filling session.
Tables are filling up; 3 – 5 year-olds on the right and 6 – 11 year-olds in the middle of the photo.
Also, in the background are piles of wrapped empty shoeboxes to be filled. These actually ended up on the floor as the tables they were sitting on were used to lengthen the rows and to also give a 'packing area' once contents had been selected.
Any surplus stock is stored under the relevant tables to replenish the tables as the shoeboxes are filled.
Team members now just concentrate on one age group for either a boy or girl until all the contents are used and the standard of completed boxes can no longer be maintained.
Toiletry bags continually are made up during the year to contain a new facecloth, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste. Pencil cases are also made up to contain a variety of colouring pencils, pencil, pencil sharpener, small ruler and a rubber. This speeds up filling the shoeboxes as the team do not have to check that they have included the standard contents for each child.
It is very difficult to tell the story of the shoeboxes without having a look inside one and so our video shows Ann Moore explaining to members of the Church Congregation just what goes into a shoebox for a boy aged 6 to 11. Every box for that age of boys will have the same, or very similar, items in it and that applies also to all the different boxes for the various ages of boys and girls. The team endeavours to treat every child in the same way, so quality and similar items in each box is very important.
It is getting harder to continue with this operation as it is becoming a full time job for some of the team. Items are given to Halmer End by St. James Church in Audley who have now discontinued making up their own shoeboxes but still supply items for inclusion in the Halmer End boxes for which we are very grateful. Our Church is now the only organisation in the Parish of Audley making up shoeboxes, as far as we are aware.
Woe betide you if you enter the hall while the make-up operation is in progress. No interruptions are allowed as the team concentrate on making up their boxes. Many years ago, the contents and make-up procedure was vetted for quality by the team at the Burton-upon-Trent shoebox depot (where Halmer End's are taken for distribution abroad) and they were so pleased with the standard of the boxes and their contents that they told the Halmer End team to seal the boxes as they did not need to be checked at the depot. Other boxes arriving at the Burton depot have to be individually checked but not those from Halmer End. Our team treats donated boxes the same way and they are checked to ensure they include all the necessary items, quite often adding their own supplies to ensure the quality is maintained. Imagine one child receiving a box full of a toy or toys, filled pencil case, toiletry bag, activities, sweets, paper, colouring pages or colouring book etc. hat/scarf/glove set and another child nearby doesn't have a quarter of these goodies. Doesn't bear thinking about.
The team at Halmer End appreciates and accepts any donations all year round. They readily accept donations of shoebox contents and cash to help build up the stock ready for November's shoebox filling. Cash and cheque donations are put aside to be sent to Teams4U to help towards their transportation costs, but cash donations are also used to purchase supplies, most of which though are covered by the team and their friends and relatives. This obviously helps to keep down personal expenditure, although regular spends over the year helps to spread the cost.
In 2023, the team received cash donations from AC/GC and Mothers' Union which were used to purchase 120 x 120g bags of Barratts Softies suitable for the 3 – 5 year-olds and 240 x 100g bags of Barratts Dino Mix for the older children.
Burton's coordinator, Clive Lawton brings the big cartons into which the sealed shoeboxes are contained for transportation abroad when he comes to pick up the shoeboxes. These are then ready for the following year.
Summary of numbers noted from 2007 until 2023 are as follows:
As you can see, the numbers fluctuate, but have certainly peaked at times!
Acknowledgements: This article has been written, and all photographs taken, by David Rowley and Anne Smith. The video was filmed by Stuart Jackson and Ann Moore presented it.
© 2024 Halmer End Methodist Church www.halmerendmethodists.org.uk