Bringing Christmas joy to children all over the world

On Tuesday night of this week – a cold and miserable winter’s night – when most people were probably sitting by the fireside watching the TV, at least 35 people of all ages from primary school children to senior citizens were working away in a warehouse on the Golf Links Road in Roscommon town, preparing thousands of gifts for children in Eastern Europe and the Third World in time for Christmas.    The people are all volunteers and are all from the local area and they are preparing gifts that were donated by the schoolchildren of Co. Roscommon under the ‘Operation Christmas Child’ banner, a project being run under the auspices of the Samaritans Purse charity.   Local schoolchildren recently filled a shoe box with gifts for a girl or boy. There are three age categories, namely 2-4 years, 5-9 years and 10-14 years and when I was there on Tuesday night, about half of the estimated 7,000 shoe boxes from Co. Roscommon had been sorted and packed and were ready for dispatch.   The Roscommon co-ordinator is Mr. Steve Frost. ‘It’s almost all voluntary work. There are three full-time staff in Dublin but after that it’s all voluntary. We have various people who go out and visit the schools first of all and give out the leaflets and we show a DVD to explain what it’s all about. That’s the way the collections are organised’ he told me.    ‘Then the children bring in the shoe boxes and we send out our volunteers to collect them’ he continued.    There are pallets with the shoe boxes stacked high in the warehouse. ‘These are from all over the county and from the Carrick-on-Shannon area as well. There is €3 also in each box which goes towards the cost of transporting the presents’ he added.    It was then I noticed well-known local AIB porter Martin Blighe who was working away counting the money from each box as it was opened and checked by the volunteers in the warehouse.   Steve Frost: ‘The volunteers collect the boxes and bring them in here and we have to open them all just to make sure that the right things are in them for a boy or a girl or for the proper age group and to take the €3 out for the transport. We take out anything that might be broken.    ‘Then we have goods donated by local businesses, called ‘fillers’, which we use to fill any boxes that need it. Then we seal the boxes and tape them up ready for separation into categories and boxing for dispatch’, he said.    Steve Frost explains that the presents will be going to places like Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and such countries and adds that they have to have them all delivered for Christmas, which is on the 6th of January in that part of the world.   ‘They go mostly to Eastern Europe but there are others that go to countries in Africa. But this is a worldwide operation and every year about 7 million boxes are delivered to children all over the world’ Steve said.  ‘ Last year from Ireland there were 266,000 boxes sent all over the world and  from Roscommon there were over 7,400 sent’ he said.    John Concar from Oran and his daughter Hazel are also veterans of this charity work. Hazel Concar told me: ‘This is the second year that we have had a warehouse to do this in Roscommon town and it’s working out very well. We work very well together. It’s great to see so many volunteers’ she said.   Hazel took me through the whole process as young and old worked away to bring a little Christmas cheer to hundreds of thousands of children who are less fortunate than ourselves.    ‘It’s nice to be able to do something positive for Christmas and I believe that these presents are very well received by the children who get them, so that’s great’ said Hazel.   Steve Frost agrees. ‘I was there when the presents were being opened last year and the joy on the children’s faces as they get them makes all this work worthwhile.’   Finally Steve is also loud in his praise of the kindness and generosity of local business people who have donated their services to help the charity.   ‘They have been brilliant. We have this warehouse free from Dermot Hughes and Paul Byron, which is fantastic. Then we needed electric power and we were given a generator from Tommy O’Connor which helps us light up the place. Then we got pallets from the Tile Centre and Barna Bins gave us a few bins for the waste.  The support we get from the business people is fantastic’ he said.   So despite all we hear about the Celtic Tiger and the growing uncaring attitude of people in Ireland today, it’s not all bad news. There is a lot of good charitable work going on in our midst, bringing joy to children all over the world this forthcoming Christmas.