Christmas shoebox children gifts 'not sustainable'

Operation Christmas Child donations Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption More than half-a-million gift boxes were donated in the UK last year

Well-wishers should be discouraged from taking part in an annual Christmas shoebox gift appeal over environmental concerns, it has been argued.

Thousands of people take part in Operation Christmas Child every year - filling shoeboxes with gifts to be distributed across the world.

Hub Cymru Africa, a group working with international charities, said sending gifts overseas is not sustainable.

But one Welsh vicar taking part said a Christmas gift is irreplaceable.

Half a million shoeboxes were sent out from the UK last year by the Christian charity Samaritan's Purse, to eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.

Hub Cymru Africa said it wanted to encourage people to think of more environmentally friendly ways to help people in developing countries during the festive period.

"We often have plastic products made abroad and brought over to the UK," explained Claire O'Shea, the group's head of partnership.

"We then put them into shoeboxes and send them back overseas. That increases air miles and carbon footprints."

'Address climate change'

She said charities should think about creating partnerships with countries that would help their local economies grow instead of gifting things that we "think" people need.

"We would encourage people to buy Fairtrade items at Christmas - Fairtrade chocolates in advent calendars and Fairtrade gifts," she said.

"We work with Size of Wales, a Welsh climate change charity, which has a Christmas appeal where you can buy a fruit tree to be given to a family in Mbale in Uganda. That provides livelihoods for families and addresses climate change.

"We would also like people to consider packaging and making ethical purchases - so considering where things are produced."

But for vicar Vicki Burrows, from Radyr, Cardiff, the act of filling a shoebox with gifts is important.

She has helped collect more than 200 shoeboxes for this year's appeal.

"If you receive a gift someone has put thought, time and energy into finding it - I think that is what captures the imagination," she said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The shoeboxes go to children in developing countries across the world

The charity behind the appeal asks gift-buyers to look for items such as toothbrushes, yo-yos or sunglasses.

"I don't think the gifts they will receive are things they will want to bin," added Ms Burrows.

"If you have nothing and you receive a hat and scarf and gloves, a cuddly toy and some colouring things, I cannot believe these are things that are going to be thrown away quickly."

But she said she would be open to explore more sustainable ways to deliver presents to children around the world.

Young people 'more aware'

Hub Cymru Africa said young people are becoming more aware of sustainability and this would change how they contribute to international charity.

"In Wales in particular, we have a curriculum now that encourages children to think more critically, and to become more globally responsible and ethical," said Ms O'Shea.

"I think students and young people are becoming more aware of the issues and probably more naturally will move away from shoebox distribution."

The appeal for this year's Operation Christmas Child has now ended, and the charity is beginning the task of distributing the gifts across the world.

Samaritan's Purse has been approached for comment.

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