Michael O'Connell (centre) with fellow volunteers on the last day of shoebox sorting in the Limerick depot in November, where almost 10,000 shoeboxes were checked - Picture: Michael Cowhey
ALMOST 10,000 special shoeboxes with left Limerick this year, and will soon be in the hands of deserving children thousands of miles away this Christmas.
This November, over 200 Limerick people volunteered their time to sort the shoeboxes over the course of ten days for Team Hope’s annual Shoebox Appeal.
Their efforts saw exactly 9,888 boxes shipped off to Ukraine and Burundi, each one filled to the brim with special Christmas gifts for some of the world’s most impoverished children.
Michael O'Connell has been working with Team Hope for twenty years, and recently joined the Team Hope board after retiring as Vice President of Limerick Institute of Technology.
“If people make a very good shoebox, and everything is appropriate, it makes our job here very easy,” said Michael on the last day of operations at the sorting depot on the Dublin Road.
“There’s an integrity in the shoebox, and we recognise what the person has done,” he added, “if we can improve a box, say if someone leaves out toothpaste, we will add those items in. Chocolate is also something we have to take out, but we put in jelly sweets instead!”
Limerick shoebox donations have seen a year-on-year increase, with Michael pinning this to the overall simplicity of the idea: “It’s a very simple, idea. The most powerful ideas are simple.”
“It’s great that a child, say an 8-year-old girl, can do something for another eight-year-old girl in Malawi,” he continued.
“The biggest thing that parents here in Ireland say to us is that they want to make their children realise how much they have and how little something like a toothbrush can mean to them but that it can mean the world to a child who has nothing.
“One of the most important items in the box is a copybook, there are kids who are mad to go to school but they can’t as they don't have one,” he added,“it’s so basic it's hard to believe.”
“Excess funds goes into other projects built on the connections we already have, so we can provide copybooks to schools that need them or even a vaccination programme.”
Michael has seen first-hand just how much of an impact the shoeboxes can have on children: “Two years ago I was in Albania with Team Hope and it was a life-changing experience to see what happens.
“The children who get these boxes have literally nothing, they live in flooding areas or remote areas. It’s like Ireland, only 150 years ago.
“This is often the first time they’ve ever received a gift like this. It’s very special.”
In total, 270,436 shoeboxes were donated across Ireland this year with 4 percent hailing from Limerick.