Reprint of 2013 article

This article appeared in the Prism magazine for December 2013…


I value our time, yours and mine, and I have greatly appreciated the commitment of so many helpers over the usual 2-week period of the shoebox appeal; some have come every day and a special few even all day, every day. Over the past few years we have a few days with over 1,000 shoeboxes sorted; however, also over these years we had days with totals in the mid-100s; in fact our single best day handled more shoeboxes than our five worst days! All this got me thinking: what if…everybody came to help in one week? Logistically, that would be difficult because we cannot receive more than 2,000 unsorted shoeboxes into the hall nor store more than 250 of the large cartons in our sanctuary: we would need the co-operation of Blythswood’s delivery drivers, our own congregation and other organisers.

In order to clear the average of over 5,000 shoeboxes as in the past few years we would need to sort over 1,000 per day, every day; we would need to receive 1,500 shoeboxes every second day; we would need to store the finished cartons in the hall corridor, in the church vestibule and perhaps also in the chapel; but it could be done. Hence the announcement in the weeks before we started the sorting centre this year that we would “concentrate” on the first week.

I have always believed that the key to the shoebox sorting centre is arithmetic: so many shoeboxes, so many hours per day, so many days, requires a consequential number of sorters. The first is variable (up to a point), the second two are fixed, the last is the problem to resolve. In the middle of the week we had upwards of 30 helpers at some points during the day, piles and piles of shoeboxes in front of the shipping cartons, sorters wanting more tape, more plastic bags for the liquids, more toothpaste; and the mountain of black bags at the end of the hall in the morning reduced to a mole-hill by evening; ending with that wonderful feeling of achievement after a really busy day.

Now, as if all that weren’t enough, our day on Tuesday was enhanced by a visit from the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the very Rev. Lorna Hood. She had heard of our efforts and commitment and, given that her own congregation in Renfrew has been involved with Blythswood’s shoebox appeal for many years, she wished to support us. Interestingly, she went to Romania at the end of the summer and visited some of those who receive shoeboxes at Christmas. (You can read more about her visit in Life and Work, December 2013, pp14-15.) Finlay Mackenzie of Blythswood Care travelled with the Moderator in Romania and also joined us on Tuesday, as did our session clerk, Pauline Weibye. There was much hilarity as they made their way around the hall talking to sorters and packers from other Edinburgh churches, from the corporate supporters and from our own congregation, as well as to our minister, John Urquhart, who was busy in the packing area all morning. [Ruth: see pictures shoebox #3] The Moderator said that she had some experience of shoebox sorting in Renfrew and thus some expectation of what she would see at Craigmillar Park; but, she admitted, she was quite unprepared for the size and bustle of our operation. At the end of her visit she addressed us all and referred to her visit to Romania, stressing the importance of what we do and the difference it makes to so many lives. For our part we gave her a gift of a special shoebox for herself containing, amongst the typical shoebox contents, a Moderatorial ring, in case any more should go missing, a Moderatorial hat, in purple wool with white lace, and a packet of Jelly Babies, to help her through the next General Assembly. [Ruth: see pictures shoebox #1 #2]

All in all it’s been a good week; the sheer busyness and bustle, the pleasure of seeing again so many familiar faces from the past few years of shoebox appeals, the sense that the new plan was working and that everyone was making a special effort to put through the numbers in record time. I have a difficulty in picking out any individual for a special mention because everyone deserves it and I wouldn’t like anyone to feel that they have been missed; but I do want to stress my thanks to Molly Longmuir, without whose efforts my job would be so much harder. Yes, I organise the people and the hall and the logistics with Blythswood; but I don’t do a thing about the shoebox contents, the stocks of fillers down the middle of the hall, the markings and labels, provision for the rubbish and the recycling and a host of other necessary tasks. They just happen, as if by magic, but I know that Molly is waving the wand.

Thank you Molly and thank you everyone from Craigmillar Park Church. I am pleased with what we have achieved this year and I know that there are children (and adults) in Moldova and the Ukraine who will bless you for your work and time.

Norman Weibye.