A mum who championed South Tyneside’s annual festive shoebox appeal helping to put smiles on the faces of more than 225,000 youngsters living in deprived countries across the globe has retired from her role.
For 26 years, Carol Hall has been at the helm of the borough’s Samaritans Purse Operation Christmas Child campaign and has devoted her life to the cause.
But during an emotional night held to thank volunteers for their efforts and to showcase images of young recipients of this year’s appeal, the 64-year-old announced she was stepping down.
For more than two decades the former librarian, from Jarrow, has been the face of the shoebox appeal rallying volunteers to help with the logistics.
Her passion to the cause has also encouraged hundreds of people each year to donate boxes filled with goodies which have gone to youngsters who would otherwise wake up with nothing at Christmas.
Remembering the early years, Carol who had been inspired to support an appeal in South Tyneside after reading up on the campaign, said: “The first few years were so hard, I can remember we had the Mayor coming, the school choir were there and we had the Gazette arriving - but we had no van.
It’s such an amazing feeling when you meet these children, and you hand over the boxes and you can see in their faces, that they realise that somebody does care.Carol Hall
“We ended up borrowing a van for the pictures and loading the boxes into that. Luckily, the children were none the wiser.
“It was great going on the distribution trips and seeing the full circle. Over the years more than 225,000 shoeboxes have travelled out from this area.”
The campaign starts in the run up to Christmas and sees people donate shoeboxes filled with goodies to the cause.
These are then transported to countries including Serbia, Belarus, Ukraine and others.
Carol, who became the area’s district co-ordinator, recalled a letter from Belarus from one of the recipients of a shoebox stating it had saved his life.
She said: “The young man had found the box years later and managed to track me down and told me it had saved his life.
“He is now 32 and working as an investment banker - he is someone who never forgot.”
Mrs Hall paid tribute to those who had helped make the appeal a success including volunteers Christine Jones, Trish Octon, and Irene Smith.
Coun Fay Cunningham, who helped turn Carol’s idea into a reality was also thanked.
Carol, who is giving up the role for personal reasons, added: “I just want to thank everyone for their help over the past 26 years. I couldn’t have done it without you.
“It’s such an amazing feeling when you meet these children, and you hand over the boxes and you can see in their faces, that they realise that somebody does care.”
Coun Cunningham said: “It doesn’t seem like two minutes since I was the Mayor’s secretary and Carol had phoned me to say what she was planning and what help could she get from the council.
“It has been an absolute privilege to have worked alongside Carol and the team every step of the way.”
Paying tribute to her sister, Gwynneth Gomersall, a Divisional Envoy - an officer within the Salvation Army - said: “Operation Christmas Child has been driven by the passion of Carol, Trish, Christine and Irene.
“I am so proud of what you have achieved. It’s certainly not going to be the same without you.”
The Deputy Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Norman Dick, said: “Carol is such an inspirational figure in our local community. She has devoted more than 26 years to making a difference to the lives of others and bringing smiles to the faces of hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged children all over the world.
“Her passion and dedication to the Operation Christmas Child shoebox appeal has been absolutely tremendous which is why Carol was chosen as the very first person to receive the Mayor’s Civic Award when it was launched in 2017.
“This was in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the community, which I have no doubt will be remembered for many, many years to come by all those involved in, and who have benefited from, such a special cause.”