Hope and charity wrapped up in a shoebox

By delegating some of the marketing, logistics and fundraising duties to transition-year students who delight in the experience, Team Hope expects to deliver 200,000 presents to children around the world

Christmas box: Jack Scollard and Amy Logan of  High School, Rathgar, with some of the boxes they and their schoolmates wrapped and filled for Team Hope. Photograph: Krista Burns

Christmas box: Jack Scollard and Amy Logan of High School, Rathgar, with some of the boxes they and their schoolmates wrapped and filled for Team Hope. Photograph: Krista Burns

Tue, Nov 5, 2013, 01:00

Now that Halloween is over and it’s safe to use the C word, many of us are starting to mull over the gift list. The students at High School in Rathgar, Dublin 6, have had their minds on Christmas since the summer, however, when they decided to get involved in the Team Hope Shoebox Appeal. They are in just one of the thousands of educational establishments around Ireland that have been collecting wrapped, gift-filled shoeboxes since September, and it’s expected that the project will bring in 200,000 little boxes of joy destined for 10 locations around the world this year.

It’s a big undertaking for these transition-year students, who have to manage the project at their school from start to finish, covering planning, logistics, marketing and finance. Their teacher Killian Barry says he hasn’t had as much to do this year because the new approach at Team Hope is to hand as much autonomy as possible to the TY students. The project has been running since the late 1990s and Barry became involved after visiting a village in Burundi and witnessing the response of a child who had just received a shoebox full of gifts.

“It was very moving,” says Barry, who has led the Shoebox Appeal at High School for four years. “Simple things such as copybooks and balloons, things we take for granted or throw away, can bring peals of laughter from a child who has very little.”

He has seen more and more TY students at High School volunteer for the programme but this year the students are the leaders rather than the participants. Amy Logan, who is 16, has fond memories of wrapping and packing shoeboxes for Team Hope when she was in primary school, but at the time it was more about the make-and-do aspect than the bigger picture. Now, she says, she’s interested in what she’s learning about the developing world, and getting her teeth into the organisational aspects of running a project such as this.

“I’m on the logistics team, not a word I even understood before I got involved in this project,” she says. “Over the past two months I have worked with my team to keep the project moving along, to coordinate the different elements, to ensure that the marketing team and the finance team were communicating effectively; that sort of thing.”

Halfway through the project, the students discovered they needed more finance to support their poster campaign, and came up with the idea of wrapping some of their own shoeboxes and selling them to students. It raised the necessary funds, and it encouraged more students to fill boxes. It has also given Team Hope a fresh marketing idea that it will use in schools in future.

“This is exactly the kind of creativity we hoped we would discover if we handed more power to the students,” says Daniel Ramamoorthy, the campaign coordinator at Team Hope. “We have provided a certain amount of promotional material to help the students market the appeal locally, but much of what’s happening on the ground this year is new because the students are coming up with it themselves.”

Ramamoorthy believes the shoebox appeal is a perfect learning module for TY students as it covers business, geography, communications and human-rights education. It also involves a measure of commitment and time management from the students in order to see the project through and meet the deadlines. Ramamoorthy hopes that what is learned from this year can be fed on to next year’s students through the organisation’s website, and other supporting material.

Jack Scollard, who is 16, has coordinated the marketing at the High School appeal this term and he says he is amazed at how much he has learned along the way.

“We’ve organised speakers to come in and talk about the communities that will receive the gifts, and we’ve run poster campaigns and fundraisers. We update our Facebook page daily and have learned to keep pushing the momentum, never letting the work we’ve done go to waste. I have personally become a lot more confident. At the beginning of this process I would have been embarrassed to walk up to someone in the corridor and ask them how their shoebox was coming along. Now I wouldn’t think twice.

“When you hear about how happy someone can be to receive something as simple as a toothbrush or a pair of gloves it makes you engage with how the world really is. There are rules about what you can put in the boxes that make you think differently as well. For example, we never put war toys in a shoe box. Even a water pistol can have very different connotations for a child in a conflict zone than it does for us here. Also, we ask people not to include toys that require power, because in a lot of the regions people have no access to power. There is so much that we take for granted in Ireland. I’m learning some very serious life lessons from this process.”

When all the boxes are collected next week – the deadline for getting your shoeboxes in is next Monday, November 11th, and they can be dropped off at any of 250 places: see panel, right – they will be delivered to a warehouse in Dublin that is already full of boxes. At the warehouse, many of the students involved at school level will also volunteer to go through the boxes and make sure that all the contents are safe and suitable, and that each box is sent to the right child in the right location. It’s a huge job that involves hundreds of volunteers of all ages, says Ramamoorthy.

The Team Hope Shoebox Appeal is still recovering from the revelation in 2009 that the organisation was a subsidiary of the American evangelical group Samaritan’s Purse. That group still runs shoebox appeals in the UK and elsewhere, and its president, Franklin Graham, was a member of the US Southern Baptist Church and son of the evangelical preacher Billy Graham. The charity describes the shoeboxes as “tools of evangelism”, and its president has been criticised for his anti-Islamic views.

Team Hope describes itself as an Irish charity and says it severed links with Samaritan’s Purse after the scandal. “Team Hope was established in 2010 and is a wholly independent Irish charity. We have a Christian ethos, but no religious material is included in the boxes. The purpose of the project is to give a needy child a Christmas gift, and there is no religious or evangelical aspect to the giving of the boxes in the receiving country,” says Ramamoorthy.

“We have people who contribute every year without fail, and new gift-givers getting involved each year. Our hope to is keep growing the programme and use new technology to bring givers and receivers closer as years go by. Last year Irish people sent 180,000 shoeboxes to children all over the world. This year we expect to top 200,000. It’s incredible, and no matter how much we send there is always a need for more.”

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