It will be all hands on deck at Ballycrochan Presbyterian Church next week as it opens it doors again to become the North Down base of Operation Christmas Child — the popular appeal that sends gifts in a shoe box to the world’s neediest children.
Over the next four weeks, a team of volunteers will be on hand to welcome donations inside the church building on Silverbirch Road in Bangor, beginning next Monday , November 1.
Jenny Clegg, the North Down regional co-ordinator for Operation Christmas Child said: “People have really taken this charity to their hearts. When it began 12 years ago in this part of the country, 17 shoe boxes were collected and sent — last year we sent off 5,589.
“I have been involved in this project for the last ten years and in 2005 I had the opportunity to go to Armenia to see the shoe boxes being given out to the children in various schools, community groups and refugee camps. To see the look on their faces when they opened the boxes makes the effort all the more worthwhile.”
Jenny says she is always surprised by the generosity of local people. “I have just come from a home in Ballywalter that belonged to an elderly lady called Rosemary Lyttle, who sadly passed away in September this year. Her family contacted me to let me know that Rosemary had filled 195 shoeboxes for us, and if I could collect them.
“When I went to her home, I saw she had another 100 empty shoe boxes there that she had hoped to fill — she has really left a lasting legacy to this cause.”
Shirley Bennett, the Co. Down co-ordinator said: “At a time when the ‘universality’ of Child Benefit in the UK is being debated, I would encourage everyone to consider the ‘universality’ of what Christmas means — especially to a child — and help us benefit as many children as possible this year.
“No matter what we are going through, individually or as a nation, I believe it is important to recognise our ability to help those less fortunate than ourselves, especially children.
“Our aim is to work with local schools, churches, community groups, businesses and individual members of the public to make sure that every single shoebox they donate goes to a child living in very difficult circumstances.”
Ballycrochan Church will be open for donations from 10am to 4pm every Monday to Friday, and also every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 7pm to 9pm.
A typical shoe box contains crayons, a colouring book, tooth brush, toothpaste, toys and sweets, however you can visit the website www.operationchristmaschild.org.uk or call the designated Helpline number 0870 011 2002 and find out about some of the more creative suggestions for filling a shoe box.