It was a wet dreary Saturday morning as we headed off to distribute shoeboxes. We arrived at a rural community that was obviously desperately poor and bleak.
This first home we visited with the social worker was a two roomed little house. Mum and dad lived there with ten children. The children’s ages were from 3 to 21, and the three eldest were out working.
Mum had made sure that her kids were scrubbed up for the visit and all looking their best – did it matter that one of the boys was obviously wearing a girl’s shirt or that the jeans were several sizes too small? Of course not!
We got a warm welcome and the kids were super excited to get their boxes.
Mum looked on proudly as she saw her children just light up with excitement, squeals and shouts, all excitedly looking in their own shoeboxes and at the same time being distracted by what others were finding in their boxes.
Elena, the eldest girl, had peeped into her box and closed it – determined to enjoy watching her brothers and sisters enjoy these special shoeboxes from Ireland. Later, when I was chatting to Elena, she opened her box for me and she loved a colourful ‘scaly’ notepad.
My daughter had given me a necklace which I gave to Elena, and her beautiful brown eyes just lit up.
I asked Elena what she would like to do when she left school, and she said to be a doctor so that she could make her mum better. I think at that point, I was fighting back tears. Mum can’t afford to go to the doctor because she has no money or health insurance. Mum, who was probably in her late 30’s but looked decades older; this poor mum of ten children, painfully thin in her dressing gown, couldn’t afford to go to the doctor.
There’s one special lady in Cork, Helen Philpott, who is 84 and does about 200 shoeboxes every year for ‘her poor children’ in Team Hope. I had visited Helen in hospital a few weeks previously and had offered to bring out a special box for her. This beautiful box was packed to the brim and I gave it to Elena’s sister, Diana.
Diana was so excited when she opened this box – on top was a gorgeous Barbie doll, dressed in the most exquisite pink dress a girl could imagine. Diana immediately put it up to her cheek and felt it. She took everything out of the box – how everything fitted in the shoebox in the first place, I never will know! Diana loved the bag and then there was a jewellery making kit. During our visit, she quietly away with it, and then gave Elena a ring and another sister got a ring too! Caring and sharing…I just loved it!
Then there were two brothers in the family – one older boy, I had a GAA Kelloggs sports shirt with me, and he loved this – it was a perfect fit! He had got a plastic crocodile hand puppet and he and his younger brother had great fun with this. Sweets were shared between the siblings..one of the smaller kids loved his toothbrush and was delighted to show his mum and I how he cleaned his teeth. I also had brought out a china tea set given to me by a friend who is a granny…she told me that her granddaughter here in Dublin had too much stuff and she didn’t need this brand new set of china! Well, Diana and her little sister had such fun with it too – I was even offered a cup of tea!
What a start to the distributions in Romania – a wonderful home visit, and one I will never forget!
Here is a video of Helen distributing shoeboxes several years ago! What an inspiration she is!