BOXES of gifts have been shipped off from Sunderland to help needy children in Europe over Christmas.
More than 11,000 shoeboxes collected for the Operation Christmas Child appeal across the North East have now been packed up and sent on their way to Romania.
The appeal is run by Samaritan’s Purse, an international charity delivering aid to people around the world, and has been running for 23 years.
The boxes, filled with clothes, food and toys, will be delivered to disadvantaged children and will be the only presents they will receive.
Gail Watson, from Washington, is area co-ordinator for Operation Christmas Child.
She said: “We packed the trucks up with 11,686 present boxes.
“It’s not a bolt-on extra to another gift. For the Romanian children we’ve sent the boxes out to, this is the only present they’re going to get.
“I went to Russia a few years ago as a distributor. It’s unbelievable to see the reactions of the kids.
“You can hear them all saying ‘look what I’ve got’ and see them sharing their sweets.”
The shoeboxes are filled by schoolchildren, churchgoers and charitable individuals.
Each box contains one toy, one stationery item, a hygiene item – such as a toothbrush, toothpaste or soap – and either sweets or an item of clothing.
One of the drop off points for shoeboxes in Sunderland was the Regus Centre, at Doxford International Business Park.
They were just one of over ten drop off points in Sunderland. Gail added: “We get boxes sent from all over the area.
“Some schools send over 200 boxes, which is really nice to see.
“It shows how thoughtful people are, as you see some boxes absolutely stuffed with items for the children.”
This is the 12th year Gail, of Rickleton, has been involved in the appeal.
She said: “We have a mix of volunteers, from all different age ranges.
“One of our volunteers is turning 90 on Christmas day, yet she still comes in and helps whenever she can. And then we had a team from Northumbrian Water come and lend a hand, and they were a lot younger and fitter.
“They also had much better memories than us older volunteers.
“We’re all going to keep doing this. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with some new blood, so we’d love to hear from anyone looking to get involved.”