I’m one of 13 children who grew up on our family farm in Killinkere, Co Cavan.

Our mother, Agnes Clarke, was really passionate about the Christmas Shoebox Appeal. It all began about 15 years ago when one of our sisters was doing shoeboxes with her children. This is when Mammy became interested in them.

In the beginning, Mammy made up about 15 or 20 boxes, but as time went by she started doing more and more. When she did 20, she wanted to do 40, and when she did 40 she wanted to do 60. Within a couple of years she was doing nearly 200 of them.

Mammy would knit scarves and little bags for the boxes. She gave care and attention to the colours she would use to knit each one. She also made beautiful dolls dresses too with matching headbands. She felt that it was much easier to knit with bright and cheerful colours, and making each one special and individual for each child.

Any time she was out shopping with us, she would always be looking out for things to put into her boxes. We would hear her say ‘Wouldn’t they be lovely now for the boxes.’ She would always be on the lookout for something special, no matter where we went. And of course, if there was a bargain, even better. That meant she could buy twice as much for her money.

For her birthday or Christmas when she received vouchers, you could hear her say, ?‘Maybe we’ll pop out and see what’s in the shops for the boxes.?’

Mammy felt it was important that every box got a tennis ball. This reminded her of as a child how much fun you could have with a ball.

It was also very important too that each space in the box would be filled with little cars, toys and surprises to light up the face of the child who would open it at Christmas time.

Love and devotion

When we visited Mammy, she would say, ‘Come here and I’ll show you what I did today.’ She just loved to share her knitting and all the new colours and designs she had come up with for her latest scarf or bag.

The shoeboxes were just her passion, she loved them. Each one of her shoeboxes was filled with such love and devotion. She’d know every single little thing that was in the boxes. If there was any little corner empty, she’d find something to fill it.

She just adored children and wanted to make sure that a child would have something special from her. She would always say, ?‘I hope these go safe and I hope they get them. I wonder who will be playing with this?’.

Years ago, we started helping in the sorting office. Mammy would come with us, and she just loved to see all the hundreds of boxes being checked and arranged in age groups. She helped out and felt very proud to be part of the group.

There was hardly a time of the year when she wasn’t doing something for the shoeboxes, because when the boxes were gone on their final journey in November, she would take a wee break. Then just after Christmas she would pick up her knitting needles again.

Carrying the torch

Mammy died in May, 2019. She had already started to do her boxes for that year, so as a family we agreed to work together and continue what she had started. We didn’t realise just how much work was involved, as Mammy had done so much of it by herself.

We kept going until we had a total of 500 boxes, which we were very proud of indeed. All of the siblings played a role one way or another. We encouraged a few people to help and we worked together as a family to bring it all together.

We realised that Mammy had worked at her own pace and would save certain tasks for a rainy day. She would cover all the copy books that went into the boxes in Christmas paper. She was practical in everything she did and would organise herself to get everything done at a steady pace, yet achieve so much by the end of the year.

At the moment, we have almost 500 boxes ready to go this year. I think Mammy would be very pleased with what we are doing, because of the way in which we are doing it, and the fact that we are working together as a family to carry on her work.

Everybody knows no matter what part of the world they’re in, whether they’re rich or poor, children still love the same things. When you take down a little box of cars, dolls or animals – children will play the same way with them, no matter where they are in the world.

Team Hope Christmas Shoebox Appeal

The Team Hope Christmas Shoebox Appeal is an annual appeal that encourages friends, families, schools and businesses to send gift-filled shoeboxes to children affected by poverty in Eastern Europe and Africa for Christmas.

Each shoebox should contain a mixture of the four Ws – something to wash with, something to write with, something to wear and something to wow the child with.

In 2020 the Shoebox Appeal took place solely online. People were asked to donate €20 and a shoebox was made up for them. You can now fill your own shoebox again, but the €20 donation option is also still available.

For more information see www.teamhope.ie

Read more

Meet the couple that reconnected through the Shoebox Appeal

Living Life: coming full circle