CASH-STRAPPED South Tynesiders will bring more than 8,000 smiles to the faces of some of the poorest children in Europe this Christmas.
Despite the cold wind of recession blowing across the borough, officials of the annual Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Appeal are celebrating after smashing last year’s festive box total.
Hebburn firefighters yesterday helped load 8,456 boxes on to a lorry bound for Brest, in Belarus, a landlocked eastern European country 1,505 miles from South Tyneside, where the gifts will be distributed to children in orphanages, schools and welfare centres.
Borough appeal co-ordinator Carol Hall said she was again “amazed” at the response of South Tynesiders, especially with money so tight.
Mrs Hall, who has been leading the borough arm of the campaign for 20 years, was speaking before the festive boxes left the Shoebox Appeal unit in Bladen Street, Jarrow.
She said: “These are hard times, but people are still putting gifts worth £15 to £20 in the boxes.
“Our total last year was 7,499 boxes, so we are delighted to have beaten the total this year.
“South Tyneside is bucking the trend for giving, and all of those boxes will represent lots of smiles on the faces of children in Belarus.”
The Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside, Couns Eileen Leask and Olive Punchion, helped send the appeal lorry on its way.
Coun Leask said: “The Shoebox Appeal is very close to the hearts of people in South Tyneside.
“I thank all the volunteers and all those who donated a shoebox. This was a fantastic effort for children who have nothing – not even a toothbrush.”
Volunteers and eight firefighters from Hebburn’s red watch sang a hymn and listened to a Bible reading, before the boxes were blessed by Major Maurice Hunt, commanding officer at Jarrow Salvation Army.
Shoebox volunteers visited 69 schools, 38 churches and 28 businesses during this year’s local appeal, when the 100-millionth box was due to be donated somewhere in the UK.
Polish driver Piotr Lukasz will not reach Belarus with his festive haul until December 13 or 14.
Launched in 1990, Operation Christmas Child has since sent boxes of small toys, toiletries and clothing to children in the poorest former eastern bloc countries across Europe.