‘I was a child who received a Christmas shoebox. This is what it meant to me’
Latvian-born Sinjita Sheerin received a Christmas shoebox as a child during a time when her country was living under a communist regime. Now, she is a volunteer for the Team Hope's Westmeath shoebox distribution centre and helps other children relive the same joy she felt. This is her thank you message to all those who sent her a shoebox.
Thank you for the shoeboxes filled with toys and goodies that you sent to me from the age of 9 years old. You may not remember sending them, but I will never forget – it was a simple act of kindness that made a lasting impression.
I am Sinjita. I come from the city of Valmiera in Latvia. At the time, Latvia had just left the Soviet Union and few people could afford the simplest of things that bring children so much joy, like markers, colouring pencils, crayons and toys.
Our local church was twinned with a church in Germany who, every Christmas, sent shoeboxes packed with gifts to the children in our town. I remember going to Sunday school and seeing the stack of shoeboxes piled up in the church hall. Each child lined up to receive their box of gifts from the teacher who insisted we didn’t open them until we got home. The excitement was hard to contain and we ran home as fast as we could to tear open the festive wrapping and see what was inside.
While we celebrated Christmas, there was little money to spend on gifts, so this was the only gift the children would get. Sometimes the shoeboxes included Christmas messages translated into Latvian and drawings from other children. It made us feel so special.
In particular, I remember receiving a tea light candle in the shape of a Christmas tree. Having only seen the ordinary shape candles like the ones in church, I had never seen a candle shaped as a Christmas tree. I loved it so much that I never lit it and I’ve cherished it to this day.
Those memories have never left me and now that I live in Ireland, I make sure to participate in the Team Hope Christmas Shoebox Appeal each year. In the rush and fervour of the run up to Christmas, it’s all too easy to forget those in other countries who are less fortunate than us, particularly children. Giving a shoebox filled with gifts is the simplest way to bring a little bit of Christmas joy to a child who may not otherwise receive a gift at all that year.
When choosing what to put in your shoebox, it’s great to include things that are based on need like toothbrushes, soap, and other necessities. But, what I remembered the most as a child were the gifts that sparked a feeling of joy and excitement. These are the things that don’t cost the earth, but that make a child say wow. It’s because of these memories that I include a little Christmas tealight in my own shoeboxes every year.
Now Sinjita, who lives in Westmeath, makes sure her own son gets involved in the shoebox appeal each year. The boxes are sent to those children affectcted by poverty in Eastern Europe and Africa. It is recommended to include things for writing like pens, pencils, colouring books, felt pens, sharpener and erasers. Washing items are also cherished like toothbrush and toothpaste, wrapped soap facecloths, a special hairbrush or comb. You can include useful items like hats, gloves, socks as well as those precious items that add the wow factor like sunglasses, games, photos of the person giving the box, dolls, cars, yo-yo or skipping rope.
Sinjita says that her experience has helped her to understand what these simple items mean to a small child. “What I’ve also learned is that giving a shoebox can spark just as much joy as receiving one. So, thank you for the memories and I hope that you got a little bit of joy from the experience too.”
Photography by Team Hope.
This article was originally published in 2021.