Formby Methodist Church Christmas Shoebox Express
At Shoebox Express, preparations for Christmas have been in full swing since 26th December last year. It began with Christmas wrapping paper – about 1500 metres of it – in the Boxing Day sales and through the year toiletries, toys & games, sweets, hats, gloves, school stationery and empty shoeboxes have been added to the collection.
You may not be familiar with Shoebox Express, but you probably do know about the many different charitable schemes to take Christmas shoeboxes to children in impoverished or war-torn areas of the globe.
Samaritan’s Purse, Rotary, Tussell Trust and Blythswood Care are just four of the religious and secular organisations that operate such a scheme.
“We took responsibility for the Christmas parcels scheme at Formby Methodist Church about a decade ago”, says Maureen, who coordinates Shoebox Express. “We forward our parcels to Samaritan’s Purse for Operation Christmas Child. We wanted to grow our participation but a few obstacles kept getting in the way. People said shopping for items to put in the boxes was too expensive or time-consuming, £15 to £20 per box was frequently mentioned. People lacked the confidence to know what items were suitable and many were apprehensive of having to neatly wrap an empty shoebox and lid in Christmas paper. Thus was Shoebox Express born. We exist solely to eliminate the barriers that prevent people participating. We are a not-for-profit group and we hope we make participation in the Christmas shoebox schemes simple, cheap, fun and rewarding. We have many dedicated volunteers but there is always room for more.”
Shoebox Express does this by shopping all through the year, both retail and wholesale, to purchase items when they are at their cheapest, rather than in the weeks leading up to Christmas when they are most expensive. They buy only items that are suitable and permitted by the schemes. They source and cover suitable empty shoeboxes with Christmas gift wrap. Everything is then brought together in one place to deliver a one-stop-shop.
On 15th October, between 10am and 4pm, all are invited to Shoebox Express’s annual sale event. Admission is free, the refreshments (drinks, biscuits and bacon baps) are free and visitors are under no obligation whatsoever. It is held in the church hall at Formby Methodist Church on Elbow Lane. Here you can choose from a wide range of free, ready-covered shoeboxes, fill them with a selection of suitable items all at cost price. The prices range from as little as 5p and no item costs more than £1. For those who struggle to know what to pack for a child, there are helpers on hand to guide you. Ready-filled shoeboxes for each age/sex category are also available if you are short of time and these are just £4.50 each. You are free to take your completed boxes away and pass them to the scheme of your choice (including those operated through various schools and churches in the area); you can leave them for Shoebox Express to pass along; or you could bring them yourselves to a special family-friendly Shoebox Service (Sunday 6th November from 10:30am at Formby Methodist Church in Elbow Lane) when the shoeboxes will be collected and blessed.
“Building a box is great fun whatever your age. It’s a great experience to give a little something when Christmas is, for many, about receiving”, says Andrew, one of the Shoebox Express volunteers. “I don’t remember when I started sending Christmas shoeboxes but I do remember why – guilt. I’ve never known a Christmas without family, love and presents, but many children around the world know none of these treasures. Sending a few shoeboxes at Christmas is a small way of sharing some of what I have.”
“Never underestimate the power of a Christmas shoebox”, says Maureen. “We are aware of two individuals, now living in the UK with families of their own, for whom the receipt of a Christmas shoebox as a child was ‘the single most significant moment’ of their lives.”
Last year, some of the boxes went to boys and girls in Romania and the Ukraine. “We don’t know in advance the destination of each box”, says Maureen, “but we are sure they go to the children in most need. In 2015 we had a hand in making 920 boxes and hope this year to reach 1000.”
This year, Shoebox Express is also running a Children’s Christmas art competition and as many entries as possible will be on display.
All children aged between 2 and 14 years are invited to submit entries. A gallery of the children’s art and free refreshments (hot & cold drinks, biscuits and bacon baps) await the visitors.
Shoebox Express 15th October – 10am to 4pm Formby Methodist Church Elbow Lane
If you’d like to contact Shoebox Express, their email address is:
or you can write to them c/o The Family Centre, Formby Methodist Church, Elbow Lane, Formby, L37 4AF.
Samaritan’s Purse story from a scheme volunteer in Romania:
“On Friday, the team was split into two groups and visited different paediatric hospitals around Cluj. We were part of a team which visited an intensive care unit. A fellow team member had one shoe box left for a boy aged 10-14. She was asked to go into a side room where a boy of 14 was lying in a bed. The previous day he had been in a car accident in which both his parents died. The boy was still in deep shock following major surgery. His grandmother was by his side and was overcome by emotion. I joined my fellow team member in the room as she held the boys hand and stroked his head. She spoke to him as he looked up at her. She handed him a shoe box and held up the items one by one to show him what was inside. The love that came out of that box was overwhelming. And, the boy spoke in English to say thank you. His arm was heavily strapped following surgery. He was on a drip and under constant observation. Without speaking I hugged the boy's grandmother and tears fell down her face. Words were not needed as she expressed her grief. On leaving the room she spoke in Romanian, which was translated as, ‘You are an angel from heaven'. Despite the terrible grief that she was experiencing, the grandmother found these few words to say thanks you for the shoe box wrapped in Christmas paper and filled with gifts. It is difficult to put into words how we felt in that room. But, there is no question that the shoe box brought happiness at the most difficult time in their lives.”
Samaritan’s Purse story from a scheme volunteer in Uganda tells the story of one Christmas shoebox:
“When ten-year-old Betty received a gift box, we could see tears flow from her eyes, which were a sign of how this gift was special to her. When asked why she was crying, she said she could not believe all the items in the box belonged to her. She shared a story of how she missed school for a week because she did not have a pencil to use. Now, she will be able to return to school because she received pencils in her box.”
Four Shoebox Schemes
Children’s Christmas Card Art Competition
Each year, Shoebox Express and Formby Methodist Church send Christmas parcels to children in poor areas of Eastern Europe and Africa.
Each parcel contains a Christmas card which is signed by the person who sent the parcel. The design we have been using is old and it’s time we had a new design – a design made by one child and sent to another child.
Can you design a new picture for us to use on the Christmas cards we send in our shoeboxes? You can use any size paper, but make sure it’s not bigger than A4. The winning card will then be shrunk to make it 15cm by 10cm, so think about how your picture might look at this size.
There are 3 categories: age 2-4, age 5-9 and age 10-14. The best entry in each group will win a £10 book token and there will be a £40 book token for the best overall entry.
Please write your name, age and phone and/or email address on the back of your entry.
The closing date is 30th September 2016. Please hand-deliver or post your entry to:
Shoebox Express, Family Centre, Formby Methodist Church, Elbow Lane, Formby L37 4AF
We will display the winning designs and all the entries we can at the Shoebox Express event on 15th October at Formby Methodist Church.
All are welcome and there will be free drinks, biscuits and bacon baps.
Full rules for the competition can be found on the church website,
Good luck! We can’t wait to see all of your designs.