This month Hong Kong charity Box of Hope is getting stuck into the delivery of nearly 30,000 Christmas boxes of donated gifts to under-priveleged communities throughout Asia. Director Sian Trodd tells Carolynne Dear how a recycled shoebox can be a thing of joy
One minute you’re lazing happily on a junk with a sea-breeze in hand, the next there’s tinsel and mulled wine everywhere you turn.
Each year, Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier, and particularly so for Sian Trodd, the new director of Box of Hope. Now in its tenth year, the local charity has been beavering away since Easter to ensure its infamous gift boxes reach those most in need this festive season.
The charity distributes shoeboxes full of Christmas cheer to disadvantaged children throughout Hong Kong, Macau, China, Cambodia and the Philippines. What started as a mini-project at former director Nicole Woolhouse’s children’s school has now mushroomed into almost 30,000 boxes of hope being handed out to children via over 40 charities throughout Asia. Trodd and her team are effectively bringing Christmas to almost 28,000 poverty-stricken children every year.
“The boxes used to be packed in Nicole’s apartment,” explains Trodd, who took over as director in April after Woolhouse moved back to the UK. “It grew and they were offered space in the offices of lawyers Allen & Overy in Exchange Square. But when they started moving in on desk space it became evident that the project was really taking off and Allen & Overy kindly persuaded their landlord to offer a vacant space for a couple of weeks from which we could pack the boxes.”
The raison d’etre behind the project was for kids to help kids. Woolhouse’s own children, plus classmates from Kellett School, simply got some old shoeboxes together and filled them with small but useful gifts. The idea stemmed from similar projects Woolhouse had seen in action in the UK. In the first year they distributed 800 boxes to underprivileged children throughout Hong Kong.
Ten years on and the gift drive is one of the best-known events on Hong Kong’s charity calendar. Each year around 140 preschools and schools take part, along with corporate organisations, church groups and individuals. “There are a team of 12 of us,” explains Trodd. “We get together in April to talk dates and start planning, and then when everyone returns from the summer holidays it’s all systems go.”
Schools are sent stickers and instruction packs and children are invited to bring in their packed and wrapped shoeboxes full of gifts from the end of October. If schools have over 50 boxes to contribute, Trodd and the team will organise for a truck to pick up the donations – this year collections will take place between November 6 and 10. If there are under 50 boxes, the school is encouraged to partner with another school, or for a parent or teacher to volunteer to run the boxes into the packing space in Exchange Square.
Then, over the following three weeks, around 200 volunteers will open and check every single box in order for it to pass through customs.
“We say no to liquids, but yes to toothpaste,” says Trodd. “We recommend that every box contains a bar of soap, a tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush, some sort of stationery – something to write with and something to write on is a good starting point – and then a treat, such as a small toy, or some Lego, or a pack of playing cards.”
Memorable boxes include one filled entirely with the proceeds of a lemonade stall – four children organized the stand in their building so they had the funds to donate scores of filled boxes, each one lovingly packed and decorated.
Woolhouse recalls another little girl who saved up her pocket money for a year and packed it up along with a handwritten note. “She so wanted to share some happiness,” says Woolhouse. “Every year our volunteers were simply overwhelmed by the generosity, thoughtfulness and kindness of Hong Kong’s schoolchildren.”
“A huge amount of thought goes into some of these boxes,” admits Trodd. “We safeguard the integrity of the boxes as much as possible when we’re checking them, but sometimes we do have to step in. We get the odd box where someone has basically emptied the dregs of their stationery draw, stubs of pencils and so forth. We ask for everything to be new and unused, a proper Christmas present.”
Local charities Clean the World (cleantheworldasia.org) and Soap Cycling (soapcycling.org) donate thousands of bars of soap, which are also added to the boxes. “One year we ran out and one of the volunteers put the word about. Lush very kindly stepped forward and a huge parcel of goods was delivered the next day. You could certainly smell those boxes arriving in the Philippines! Hopefully we’ll be partnering with Lush again this year.”
While all the charities Box of Hope delivers to are in need, some are more in need of certain items than others. “The Hong Kong kids all need stationery, anything goes from notebooks and pens to rubbers and packets of coloured pencils. In places like Cambodia and the Philippines, they’re happy to receive anything. These children have absolutely nothing. It’s heartbreaking to see them treasuring even the cardboard box.”
The delivery trucks are provided free-of-charge by Red Box Storage and Crown Relocations for a certain number of days, after which a courier company jumps in at a discounted rate.
“The boxes destined for the Philippines and Cambodia are shipped and we are currently looking for a shipping company to offer discounted transportation,” says Trodd.
Once at the destination, local charities step in and take over.
“It’s humbling to see how excited the children are to receive these gifts,” admits Trodd. “They are living in such impoverished conditions yet all are smiling, all are so happy to see us each year.”
If you, your school or preschool would like to take part in this year’s Box of Hope campaign, contact boxofhope.org. Follow the charity on Facebook @Box of Hope and on Instagram @boxofhopehk.