Christmas shoeboxes packed for refugees

More than 160 Blue Mountains shoe boxes have been packed for their Christmas journey with care.

They are going to refugee, or asylum seeker children, currently living in western Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the central west –  recent arrivals, who have come with little more than the contents of a shoebox.

On Wednesday December 5, the Mountains Youth Services Team (MYST) at Springwood had their “monster packing party”. More than a dozen volunteers sorted boxes by gender and age and covered them with colourful Christmas wrapping.

The boxes are targeted at newborns to 18 year olds and contain anything from toys to clothing, personal hygiene products or pencils and books. There is also a personal note of welcome from the gift-giver.

The boxes have been donated since 2015, when two Winmalee High work experience students thought up the idea as a way to welcome refugees. One of those students, Annabelle Baddock, was on hand to help out this year. She recently won two scholarships programs “on the back of the shoebox idea” she said. 

Last year more than 250 boxes were given out. But MYST’s Sue Campbell-Ross said she was not deterred by the drop in numbers this year after a bumper 2017, citing organisational change and a lack of opportunity to promote the project.

“The bottom line is this Christmas 160 refugee children are going to get a box that makes them feel loved.”

Jackie Mayers from Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group said it had been a “transformational project”.

“Not just for those who received the boxes, but children who were involved in it and people like Annabelle who has received a scholarship on the back of what was just a kind idea.

“Our community visitors will take fifty per cent (of the boxes) to those who may have been in the community for a little while, some have been on Nauru, and the other fifty per cent are going to newly arrived Syrian or Iranian children.”

“It doesn’t take much to make a big difference.”

This year there are many moving welcome messages inside the boxes. One Katoomba High student wrote ‘Welcome mate to the land down under’ and another scribbled ‘We are so glad to have you here’. Last year one child popped a note in the box that said ‘Don’t worry, be happy, Merry Christmas. Your (sic) not alone’.

And it isn’t just Blue Mountains residents who have been generous this year. One box has even come from Perth, Western Australia.

The team has received some effusive thank-yous from the recipients.

“One little boy came to visit and named everything he had received in the box from five or six months earlier and said afterwards the box became a car,” said Ms Campbell-Ross.

“I was over the moon that he was so pleased. It was like I had had a happy drug,” she added.

MYST is a non profit charity providing care and support for young people. Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group regularly visits refugees in immigration centres and distribute the boxes.

Schools interested in participating next year can contact Ms Campbell-Ross on 0425 753 072.