EVERY year a shoebox covered in Christmas wrapping paper, becomes the only gift a Romanian child in poverty receives. Thousands of abandoned children suffering with incurable and terminal illnesses, depend on these small parcels of joy every year. Children in Distress, a charity founded in the UK and staffed by volunteers, not only hand deliver Christmas shoe boxes but provide hospice care directly to Romania’s forgotten children.
There are plenty of different Christmas shoebox appeals to get involved with over the festive period. For many organisations the goal is simple, to provide a box of treats for children in destitution, children in care, or children who are ill.
In Ashton-Under-Lyne, Vicar of St Michael’s and All Angels church, Rev Rachel Battershell and her congregation, have been providing Christmas shoeboxes to Children in Distress every year:
“I encourage each member of the congregation to fill and make at least one shoebox, we live in a society of plenty and we need to share with those with nothing.
“We have sent 60 boxes to Children in Distress this year, more than we’ve ever managed to send before.“
Children in Distress provide care for Romania’s children who suffer incurable and terminal illnesses. Since 1990 the volunteers and staff of Children in Distress have brought love and care to the suffering, abandoned and forgotten children of Eastern Europe.
The charity and its partner programmes care directly for over 2600 infants, children, and young people. Through education, training, social care and outreach they change the lives of a further 8000 children and their families and through advocacy, particularly for those living with Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
The Christmas shoe box appeal is a part of the mission of care that Children in Distress provide. Jane Russell, Funding Development Manager of the North and Midlands, recalls the harrowing memories that began the grassroots of the appeal:
“Nicholas Ceausescu, the dictator of Romania was killed on Christmas Day in 1989. The crisis in paediatric care services was exposed in the early 1990’s and we started seeing these horrendous images on our televisions. Children were fastened up in cots just lined up row after row in institutions. Children were attached to the rails of the cots, it was truly shocking to see. It was then when we knew we had to do something to help:
“Our founding Director Rev Dr John Walmsley, the parishioners of St. Laurence Barkingside, and ourselves appealed for clothes, goods, absolutely everything, as everything was needed. On that first trip we took four lorry loads out and that’s how we started.”
Jane is quick to rebuke any suggestion that there isn’t a need for small acts of kindness in 2015:
“Once you go out of Bucharest, which is quite a cosmopolitan city, and into the villages it’s like going back 75 to 100 years. The people there are very very poor.“
“A lot of children in our care are abandoned, but, it’s not because the parents don’t care about them, it’s because they do care about them in a lot of cases, they simply can’t afford the medication or the medical assistance for them.
“When we say that for many children that the shoeboxes are their only gift, it is true, for many who receive the boxes it is their only gift.“
This year Children in Distress will have sent out 9000 boxes that will go to approximately 40 different locations around Romania.
The dedication of the volunteers who pack and sort the shoe boxes, the use of free warehouse space provided by Preston’s, and the money donated for transit, are all imperative to the success of the appeal says Jane.
Back in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Rev Rachel is proud of her congregation’s commitment to bringing joy to children who have very little in money and in health:
“We must as Christians protect the weak and vulnerable in our society, here and in our world, we must make a difference.”
Father Christmas has already started delivering his small gifts of hope in Pitesti, Curtea d’Arges. Small lines of excitable children wait patiently to receive their boxes with open hands, hands that are usually empty but for one day a year are filled with joy.
By Amy Sheridan