By Edna Branthwaite
In 1990, Western journalists were allowed to enter the opened doors of Romanian orphanages for the first time and stunned the world with their TV coverage of starving, freezing children, unloved and covered in sores and lice.
David Cooke was so horrified by what he saw that he asked his friends and neighbours to fill a truck with supplies to drive to Romania. His sister suggested they also send Christmas presents. Local people responded magnificently raising a staggering £60,000 in a few weeks and the charity Operation Christmas Child was born. It is now run by Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational evangelical, international relief agency.
In 2010, 1.12 million boxes from the UK and Ireland (4,000 of which were from West Cumbria) were distributed to children in 14 countries ranging from Belarus to Zimbabwe. It is thanks to the generosity of people from all walks of life that this massive logistic operation slips smoothly into gear each year. It starts with a shoebox and the people who give what they can to ensure that the boxes are filled and eventually arrive in the hands of deprived children. People like Diana Varty who, for years, knitted enough hats and mitts to fill a black bin bag. Now, because of a problem with her eyes, she only knits enough hats, mitts and small Christmas stockings for the school her granddaughter attends and for her family and friends. Margaret Woodburn and Geraldine Pritchard, this year filled 20 personal boxes between them and a further 10 using a donation of £47 from Moor Row Jubilee Club and £20 from Bigrigg Circle. The Town Council and Egremont 2Day donate the funds to pay for transportation. If you are unable to make up a box you can make a donation or provide a small present and Egremont Town Council will gladly make up a shoebox.
For the last four years Alan Gauld, Team Leader at the Remploy factory in Cleator Moor has been most helpful in providing the use of a huge room where the boxes are stored and checked before transportation. Dot Blaylock says they ‘owe Alan a great deal for his help.’ Dot, District Co-ordinator, Cathy Wells and Margaret Rickerby with 30 helpers begin in November to check that boxes do not contain any prohibited items but if they do the items are removed and replaced with something appropriate though Dot stresses that the boxes are never changed. The storage room contained rows and rows of labelled shelves containing things like toiletries, toys, knitted goods, blankets. Wool is always in demand and Dot would be very grateful for any surplus people would like to donate.
Margaret’s husband, Richard Rickerby drives the Cumbrian coastline from Beckermet to Allonby each year to collect the boxes. They are then packed into huge cardboard cartons marked Samaritan’s Purse and, at the end of November, a representative of the charity drives them to Wrexham. Ian Macleod , Head of Relationships and Infrastructure at Samaritan’s Purse, informs me that this year the boxes will go to Belarus, Bosnia, Kosova, Liberia, Haiti, Montenegro, Mozambique, Romania, Swaziland and Ukraine charity
Drop-off points for the boxes are the Remploy factory in Cleator Moor (not Fridays) where you can pick up a leaflet that will tell you what you can and cannot put in the boxes. In Egremont leaflets can be picked up from Jenkinson’s Florists and Fruiterers. You can also pick up a leaflet at Egremont Town Council Office but this is the only drop-off point in the town. This year, for the first time, if you wish to pay the £2.50 donation towards transportation online, Samaritan’s Purse will let you know which country your box has gone to.
It is heart-warming to know that so many people contribute their time, skill, presents or money so that deprived children somewhere in the world have presents to open on Christmas Day.