The Warehouse staff have been busy filling shoeboxes with gifts for Wairarapa children. PHOTO/EMILY FARRELL

Hayley Gastmeier

Five hundred children will not be going without gifts this Christmas thanks to Sophie Cosford and generous support from the Wairarapa community.

Last year Sophie, of Featherston, launched the Wairarapa Shoebox Christmas initiative – a project where businesses and community members can donate a shoebox full of gifts for a child in need.

The idea was first launched in Wellington by Pera Barrett in 2014, when he organised a team of volunteers to deliver Christmas presents to 80 children at a decile 1 school in Cannons Creek, a low socio-economic community.

Named as Kiwibank’s Local Hero of the Year winner for 2019, Pera is now responsible for delivering gifts to more than 4500 children at 35 schools.

Sophie, mother to George, 5, and Gus, 1, moved to Featherston three years ago.

Before this, she spent a decade working in Wellington as a primary teacher at low decile schools and helped set up breakfast programmes.

She said knowing the background that some of the children came from was a real eye-opener.

Sophie said becoming a solo parent also changed her outlook.

“I realised how tough it would be to provide Christmas for your family on a limited income.”

She said Wairarapa Shoebox Christmas aimed to provide presents to children “who might just need an extra smile”.

“All children are deserving of a good Christmas.

“Just being a mum, I don’t want anyone to miss out.”

Last year, Wairarapa Shoebox Christmas distributed 250 shoeboxes filled with gifts.

This year it would be upwards of 500.

Sophie, who co-runs the Wairarapa Mums Group, said the children who would be receiving the boxes were identified through schools, social agencies, social workers, and community organisations, including FoodBanks.

People who donate the boxes are asked to fill them with brand new and handmade goods, with the total spend per box to be from $20 to $40 to ensure “a level playing field” for the children receiving them.

Sophie said lots of individuals, community groups and businesses had stepped up for the cause.

“A lot of them have chosen to fill boxes instead of staff presents or Secret Santa.”

She said staff at Pathways were filling 20 boxes, while the Wainuioru School community were putting together 15 to be distributed by Eketahuna Health Centre to children.

Staff at YMCA Masterton and More FM were also taking part, as was Masterton-based Labour List MP Kieran McAnulty who is filling a box which will be donated to a boy through Wairarapa Women’s Refuge.

Sophie said The Warehouse in Masterton were contributing in a huge way.

Last year the company donated two trolley loads of toys to help fill shoeboxes and staff filled at least 50 shoeboxes themselves.

This year, The Warehouse has donated a $500 gift card and on top of this staff have filled nearly 50 boxes which will be distributed through Rangitāne, who have identified children in need.

Sophie has co-ordinated this all single-handedly through the Facebook page @wairarapashoeboxchristmas.

“It’s really important to acknowledge the incredible support from our community,” she said.

“Five hundred people filling a box, spending their money, just to make a child’s Christmas a bit better.”