There’s a gift to mak­ing many chil­dren happy

The Sunday Independent - - METRO - KAREN PRE­TO­RIUS karen.pre­to­[email protected]

A TSUNAMI of kind­ness. That’s how Santa Shoe­box chief ex­ec­u­tive Irene Pi­eters de­scribes the help the project re­ceives from the pub­lic ev­ery year.

This year, 96 079 shoe boxes were dropped off at 62 satel­lites around the coun­try and Namibia. The 12th cam­paign has been wrapped up and brings the to­tal num­ber of Santa Shoe boxes dis­trib­uted to 858 673.

“We’re march­ing to 1 mil­lion – a num­ber we will reach by 2020. The gifts went to more than 1 400 fa­cil­i­ties which in­clude crèches, pre-schools, pri­mary and high schools, chil­dren’s homes, places of safety and feed­ing schemes,” said Pi­eters.

And there’s no time to re­lax. The next cam­paign kicks off as soon as the cur­rent one is done as it takes a whole year to put it all in place.

A core group of 320 peo­ple man­age the project. But at drop-off time in Oc­to­ber, around 2 000 vol­un­teers work at var­i­ous points.

Pi­eters gave up a suc­cess­ful 25-year ca­reer as a sports phys­io­ther­a­pist be­cause of os­teoarthri­tis in her hands. She joined a chil­dren’s char­ity as a vol­un­teer in 2007. She was in­spired by the founder of that group to dis­trib­ute gifts to chil­dren at Christ­mas. Pi­eters be­came project leader of what would later be­come Santa Shoe­box.

“It took off to a fly­ing start – do­ing 2 000 boxes in­stead of the planned 600 in 2007, in its first year,” said Pi­eters.

And the best part is still to see the amaze­ment on a child’s face when they find their name on a box.

“When they re­alise this is not an­other hand-out, it is a gift lov­ingly made by a car­ing stranger – is a mag­i­cal mo­ment ev­ery time,” she said.

And in their thank you let­ters, the chil­dren of­ten ask that the same be done for other chil­dren. And it’s the lit­tle things of­ten taken for granted, that bring great joy to the chil­dren.

“One lit­tle boy clutched all his hy­giene items close to his chest, closed his eyes and shouted ‘vanaand gaan ek skrop’ (tonight I’m go­ing to scrub). He had just re­ceived his own toothbrush for the first time in his life,” she said.

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