For many Northland kids this year, the best part of Christmas will come in the form of a shoebox.
Last year, over 500 children were recipients of Christmas in a Shoebox in Whangārei – an initiative whereby a box is filled with goodies by community members and gifted to nominated children.
The project was started in 2017 by Rangimarie Mako, who remembered the disappointment of not receiving gifts at Christmas and birthdays. She was joined the following year by fellow mother Rickylee McElwain, who stepped up to drive the project. This year, Onerahi mum Holly Duder-Joy is running it.
Christmas in a Shoebox follows a simple premise - get a shoebox, choose a gender and age, fill it with appropriate gifts such as toys, books, lollies etc, add a note or card in the box saying Merry Christmas from you and your family if desired, wrap the lid and box separately and deliver to one of the designated drop-off points.
Boxes will be matched with nominated kids' ages before their caregivers will be asked to collect them.
Individuals, as well as businesses, schools and organisations, can partake.
"We suggest people get a shoebox and fill them up with anything relating to that age group," said Duder-Joy. "For example, if it's for a baby, it could have toys, bibs ... It doesn't have to be expensive, it can even be a toothbrush and toothpaste."
Duder-Joy and her kids had donated gift-filled boxes in previous years and she was happy to step into the role of organising it this year.
"When I saw that Rickylee couldn't do it, I thought it's such a good initiative, and wanted to continue it. I'm lucky my job allows me to do something voluntary at this time of year."
Last year, 500 boxes had been given to local children and she was expecting more this year.
"I think there's more of a need and people are very aware that times are tough, more so than ever. I've got three children myself and a big part of Christmas for me is about giving. Lots of parents are in the same boat wanting their kids to see how lucky they are."
The project is aimed at babies and children/teens up to age 15, and people are asked to send nominations for recipients by December 16. Gift boxes can be delivered to several locations before that date. They are: Ray White Whangārei, Wadpa Dance Studio, Cypress Court Motel, YHPJ Chartered Accountants – both Whangārei and Dargaville, Hole in One Café and Comrie Park Kindergarten in Matarau.
In lieu of gifts, monetary donations can also be made towards the cause that will be used to top up boxes lacking age-specific items. In previous years, organisers had noticed more shoeboxes filled for girls aged 4-8.
Similar initiatives are also run in Dargaville and Kaitaia. Further information, including how to nominate, can be found on the Facebook page: Christmas in a shoebox Whangarei/Northland