When is a shoebox a gift? Why, when it’s filled with children’s toys and knickknacks, of course!
Over the years we have seen several seasonal Christmas Shoebox programs in Cyprus. And in 2021, two local communities launched their own shoebox appeals, asking carers to donate gifts to children who might otherwise miss the joy of Christmas.
We launched our call for shoes several years ago when someone told us about a similar effort in the UK, âsays Karen Pekris, who heads the Larnaca program. âTo date, we have distributed hundreds of local children whose families may not be able to afford anything at such a special time of year. In 2020, more than 270 shoeboxes were donated and handed over!
While Karen acknowledges that the program may have its detractors – “not all adults will agree that children need toys for Christmas” – she asks that people remember their own childhood. âThink back to when you were young and how special Christmas was to you. For a child, there is a very magical feeling this time of year, and we don’t want anyone to feel left out because their family cannot afford to provide anything.
âIt’s not necessarily about toys or games,â she adds. âIt’s about making sure all of our children feel cherished. And for a child who would have nothing else, a box of simple little gifts will be very special. They will have friends who may buy games, dolls and gadgets. But it is impossible for some families, especially after the year we have just lived; they are really struggling and a Christmas present might be the last thing they can give.
Along with four other community members, Karen is responsible for the Larnaca shoebox appeal. And that involves collecting, sorting, and verifying each box before it goes out, as well as maintaining a recipient list.
âEverything is completely confidential,â she explains. âFamilies whose children could benefit from the program or people who know children in need contact us and tell us where to bring the gift. We don’t take any surname for children – everything is done on the basis of the first name, so no one knows who a box will go to.
âWe already have over 98 children on our list,â she continues. âAnd we’ll definitely add more as we get closer to Christmas. So if you know of a child who might otherwise not have gifts this Christmas, please contact us; it’s completely confidential and it’s a great way to show that you care.
âCreating a shoebox certainly won’t break the bank,â she adds. âIt’s easy to put a few extra items in your basket when you’re at Jumbo or Tiger and then put them in a shoebox. And it’s also a wonderful way to teach your own children the importance of taking care of others: several of the people who donate told us that their own children use their spending money to add a little something to the box.
Karen requests that the gifts be wrapped in a shoebox or similar sized box – âalthough we would gladly accept bulk donations and add to what we already haveâ – and that the box then be wrapped. âBut we do ask that the boxes and lids be packaged separately,â she notes, âbecause we need to verify that the content is appropriate for the recipient: we have everyone on our list, from babies to older teens. . “
The deadline is December 6 – “which gives us time to sort everything and organize what goes where,” says Karen – and drop-off points include Cyprus Life at Oroklini, the Flamingo Hotel on Mackenzie Beach. and the tree of life in Downtown Larnaca. “And all excess gifts go to the Municipality of Larnaca which maintains its own list of needy families,” concludes Karen.
Nicosia also runs a similar program, with all gifts being given to children in the Kofinou refugee camp. The program is run from Saint Paul’s Cathedral, in the center of town, and any gift is appreciated, the organizers say.
âShoe boxes are ideal,â says assistant Martyn Henry. âBut we are happy to accept bulk items, stockings or gift bags. Anything you would like to give will be received with gratitude: Anything you can imagine will put a big smile on a child’s face on Christmas morning, especially items that will create continuous pleasure, such as toys, boxes painting or board games. “
St Paul’s especially asks for gifts for boys aged 12-14. No matter what you give, we always know children who will appreciate a gift, ânotes Martyn. âThere are so many people who have absolutely nothing, and anything we can do to help them is a bonus.
âAt St Paul’s, we work year round to help the less fortunate, that’s our mission statement. But Christmas is a particularly important time for children: many will enjoy exciting new toys and games, âhe adds. “And there are a lot of kids who don’t have that luxury all the time of the year.”
The St Paul program shares the deadline of December 6, and gifts can be dropped off at the church office between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. Monday through Friday. âOr you can drop off your boxes on weekends, when there is always plenty of helpers at our morning bookstore, thrift store and church services. Anything you can give will be received with great gratitude.
- Fill your box, bag or stocking with kid-friendly gifts.
- If you donate a box, please package the box and the cover separately so that the contents can be checked.
- Bulk items can also be donated. The organizers will make sure to complete a gift.
- Write and attach a card to the child, if desired.
- Include a note specifying the age and gender of the intended recipient.
- Deposit your gift before the deadline of December 6. (The Larnaca program can also send someone to collect your gift if needed.)
Toys: Soft toys, dolls, toy cars, small musical instruments, yo-yos, skipping ropes, balls, small puzzles
Stationery: Pens, pencils, pencils, markers, notebooks, calculators, coloring or picture books
Toiletries: Toothbrush, wrapped bars of soap, comb or hairbrush, flannel
Other: Hat, gloves, scarf, cap, socks, hair accessories, plastic jewelry, candy (nothing that could melt!)
DO NOT include:
Used or damaged items, war-related items, religious or political items, sharp or fragile items, items liable to melt or leak
Larnaca: life in Cyprus in Oroklini, the Flamingo hotel, the tree of life
Nicosia: Saint Paul’s Cathedral office (between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., Monday to Friday)
For more information contact Karen at 99 596829 (Larnaca) or St Paul’s at 22 445 221 (Nicosia)