Family & Elderly Shoebox Delivery Diary 2022

This year a small team went out to Moldova to deliver some of your shoeboxes.  Due to some of our projects being so near the Ukraine border we wanted to be agile and move quickly if necessary.  We have not managed to visit our projects for nearly three years so this was a great time to give out your shoeboxes and also catch up on some of the projects and people Link to Hope continues to support. Here is an account of where some of your shoeboxes ended up.  For the rest of the Shoebox Delivery Photos please follow the link.

N.B Due to increased costs and lack of personnel we are sorry that we will not be sending out this diary by post as we usually do.  Please  download it along with any of the photos you may want for presentations etc.

Shoebox Delivery Team

Day 1 – Cosnița, Moldova

After a very early start, then a delay at Luton airport of a couple of hours due to the extreme cold and heavy frost on the plane, we eventually arrived at Chisinau Airport mid-afternoon, where we were warmly greeted by our Project leaders Ruvim and Pașa, and taken to their home in Cosnița, Transnistria, where we shared a delicious traditional meal with their extended family, before gratefully collapsing into bed early evening after our extremely long day.

Day 2 – Cosnita, Moldova

We began at the Link to Hope Canteen Project. People were patiently and quietly queueing at the gate, wrapped up well against the cold, clutching bags in which were large, empty glass jars, which were then filled with nutritious food which had been prepared by the canteen staff. These were carefully placed into their bags, and then we were able to pass each person a shoebox, which they gently received, in quiet, humble appreciation.  To see many of their faces light up in happiness at the unexpected gift, never fails to be humbling, it is as though they have been gifted the world. One blind lady recognised Lisa’s voice from a few years back, and was so happy to be with her again, savouring the gift of touch and time to share some of her daily challenges.

Our first visit was to a very small house with a mum and dad and three shy children.  The space was like a large galley kitchen with a large bed at one end.  They children opened the shoebox which fortunately was packed with a wide variety of items and carefully took out each item, showing them to each other and giving them to the person they thought would most like it.  The family were poor but obviously trying their very best for their children.

Link to Hope Shoebox Delivery Diary
Shoebox Appeal 2022 - Lady in Bed

We started to delivered one shoebox to a lady of 74, Galena. She used to be a biology teacher and has no relatives around her to help. Galena is incapacitated in bed. As we entered the house, we could smell the fact that she struggles with personal hygiene, although the small house was well looked after. This was because a lady (not a relative) Maria, visits her 3x a day for an hour each time to care for her. Maria lives in a house which belongs to Galena, so cares for her in return. The room where Galena lay was very simple, The entrance ’hall’ had a floor covered with rugs on a mud floor, you could feel how uneven it was beneath your feet. Maria also received a shoebox, as she too clearly struggled to make do

We were taken to the next house, into a room where the smell was so bad it made our eyes water. There was a huge pile of rags in a corner, from which an older man unsteadily emerged, speaking Russian, a little befuddled as to why we were there. When we looked closer at what he had been sleeping under we saw it wasn’t really blankets, more like old rugs and carpets, anything to keep warm.  The small area we had walked through to get to this main, but still very small, squalid room, was tiny, and full of little more than squalor. A pair of rusted scissors on a filthy table, next to an archaic calendar – which had been turned to the correct date!

Link to Hope Shoebox Appeal 2022 - Man in bed
Link to Hope Shoebox Appeal - Family

One of our visits was to the Carara family. The dad welcomed us into the muddy yard area which was littered with piles of rubbish, a few bedraggled hens scratching around and lines of damp clothes strung up in a vain attempt to dry and air it in the dismal winter weather. Ruvim explained how sad this family’s life is. The family is incredibly poor, they all scour the village and surrounding area for rubbish to see if anything is salvageable useful or saleable. It must be incredibly challenging to live and raise a family in such conditions. The family were warm, welcoming and friendly, and expressive in their joy at receiving a shoebox. Camilla had a knitted headband in my pocket, from a faithful supporter who always knits so much for the Shoebox Hospital. The teenage girl was delighted with it, and a packet of popping candy made them all laugh. We all hoped the shoebox was jam packed with useful and lovely things which would be perfect for the family.

Day 3 – Cosnita, Moldova

We enjoyed the challenge of packing about 300 shoeboxes into Ruvim’s van, packing them tightly into every available space, including around us as we squeezed in.  We drove to the local school, where about 5 teenage boys were waiting for us. These young lads proved to be invaluable during our delivery to this school happily ferrying the required number of boxes from the van to each classroom, up and down the stairs many times, never losing their enthusiasm. The deputy head teacher organised the delivery incredibly efficiently, with her beautiful handwritten list detailing the number of shoeboxes required for each classroom.

As we moved from class to class within the school, it was evident how sparse the school was, although the corridors were well painted and bright, they were empty of furniture or displays – all very stark. The teenage boys worked enthusiastically alongside us, handing out shoeboxes to each child as they sat patiently waiting at their desks. We all encouraged the pupils to open their boxes, and discover the treasures within (although some wanted to save them to enjoy opening at home) The children were immensely grateful for their shoeboxes which was evident in the volume of appreciation, which escalated as they showed and shared their items with each other – showing the compassion they had for each other. Each teacher was also gifted with a shoebox, and were grateful and gracious in receiving them.

Shoebox Appeal - Boy with Dominoes
Shoebox Appeal - Girl with puppet

Back at Ruvim and Pașa’s home, it was time to pack up our bits for the drive to our next stop, two days delivering boxes in Bozieni and Dubovca.

It was quite incredible to see the centre in Bozieni, now transformed from an inadequate leaking single storey building, to a thriving and much used three storey community centre and church. A large part of the construction was paid for by Link to Hope and its supporter.s so we were very pleased to see it completed. It was also a wonderful refuge for the many Ukrainians refugees who were made to feel so welcome and safe there when they fled from the war. The centre still is poised to receive them back again,  in case the worst happens and it is needed as a place of refuge again. They will keep about half of the beds and the other half will be donated to the poorest people who live locally.

Bozieni Community Centre

Day 4 - Bozieni, Moldova

The team was driven up the hill to remote Dubovca, the van bumping over the huge ruts in the road, and slipping from side to side in the mud, pretty treacherous and challenging to drive on, and it’s not even bad winter conditions yet!

We went from ramshackle home to ramshackle home, mainly visiting elderly people, many of whom were infirm which made life even more challenging for them.

Efim was an elderly gent who used to be an engineer in the village. His wife and one of his daughters had died, another daughter is living in Europe, and a son lived in Moldova, but a fair distance away. The ‘steps’ up to his house were perilous for us – I suppose he was used to them, but they would still be dangerous for him to use.

Link to Hope Shoebox Appeal - Jane

Our next visit was to dear Vera, a lady Jane and Camilla knew well from previous working parties. It was heart-breaking to see this once vibrant and happy lady, now blind, confined to bed and cared for by her son. She was thrilled to have Jane with her again, instantly recognising her voice, but just repeated that all she wanted to do was to die as life is not worth living any more as she cannot do anything. We were all in absolute bits, and it was hard to say goodbye.

One of Pastor Ion’s team knocked on the rickety door and called out to the resident, but there was no answer, so she attempted to knock on one of the panes of glass in the window – only to discover that most of the panes were missing, it was just sheets of plastic, so it took a while to discover one which actually had glass in it! Eventually an elderly man emerged, who had just risen from being in bed – maybe an attempt to keep warm. We were invited into the dingy home, a real house of poverty. Humbling and shocking all over again, we gave him a shoebox which he was so pleased with, then we were shown to a dark door in the corner which, when opened the smell hit us. We could just make out a pile of rags on a ‘bed’ then realised that a very elderly lady was silently laying there, so tiny and shrivelled. Only her tiny head visale above the filthy covers, she looked completely confused as to why we would appear in her house, just blinking in confusion. She tried to move her hands above the covers, but did not seem to have the energy, so gave up. Camilla showed her the shoebox and gently stroked her cheek but wondered whether she would ever summon the energy to see the contents when it was opened. Just maybe, seeing the box, beautifully wrapped in white and silver sparkly Christmas paper would be enough to feel loved by someone. We left wondering how often she was helped? How often did she get to eat? It was awful. Someone on the team said, ’Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does’.

Shoebox Appeal - Missing Glass
Shoebox Appeal - Two Boys

We took a family shoebox to where a grandmother was caring for her 2 grandchildren, we were told that the mother was ill and was not interested in her children at all. The grandmother was incredibly worried that if she got ill who would look after her grandchildren.  The two boys looked very bleak and didn’t smile even when we gave them a shoebox.  I don’t think they were used to such kindness.

Another house we went to was raised from the ground on what looked like very unsteady crumbling foundations. The dark bare room where the couple were was dank and depressing in its lack of any colour or possession, apart from a hanging atmosphere of hopelessness and despair. The woman was wrapped in dark grubby clothes, with a grim expression. The man sat slumped on a bench/bed, devoid of any interest in life. One side of his nose appeared to be rotting and looked so painful. Later we were told by Ion’s team that it was a boil, which they are giving him regular medicine for, poor man, it is clearly dragging him down. The floor was bare filthy floorboards, there was a small wooden table with a grimy cloth, a plastic bucket of water and a single metal cup. A brick and mud built stove was in the corner, burning feebly, giving little warmth against the winter cold, two small logs on the floor next to the stove. . Most of the ceiling had fallen away, revealing rotten rafters above.  When we gave the man his shoebox he appeared disinterested and disconnected, it just looked as though he had lost the will to care about anything. A sobering visit which left us all subdued.

Shoebox Appeal - Bozieni Community Centre

Pastor Ion showed us the half built community centre in Dubovca, which will be used as a base where the local community will be able to easily access to receive support with food and education, as for many of them, the challenge of getting down to Bozieni is impossible. We were taken to an archaic building which is currently used by the team. A large group of children were seated at tables, having just enjoyed a simple packed lunch which the team had provided for them – as it does regularly with help

We handed them each a shoebox which they clutched tightly to them, unanimous in their thanks, but also in their reluctance to open them. Instead wanting to take them home to open with their families. It was great watching them rush excitedly home across the muddy ground.

When we got back to the centre in Bozieni, another group of children had just enjoyed a meal, and were sitting at the table in excited anticipation. Excitement levels grew as we unpacked the outer cartons and handed them each a shoebox. This group of young people were very happy to open them, and it was wonderful watching them exclaim over the simplest of items, or swop items between themselves. As they went through the items in the shoeboxes, the children named members of their families who each item was for, which once again highlighted the importance that every shoebox contains a good selection of items, something for every member of the family, of all ages.

Shoebox Appeal - Lisa

We were driven back to our final destination of the week, Dancu. As we drew close, we passed a long line of lorries parked, waiting to go over the border to Romania. Since the war in Ukraine and the port of Odessa has been bombed, the lorries have diverted this way, blocking the road as the in depth checks take hours for each lorry. Sometimes tailing back many kilometres and causing all sorts of issues with local traffic.  The team from the church go out regularly to offer food and hot drinks and the border crossing guards know to ring the team if there are any welfare issues with any of the drivers.

Chetroșeni was our next stop, a remote village about half an hour from Dancu. Ala’s mother greeted us, she lives there, so has a good relationship with the people of the village, and knows where the neediest families live. It is always important that our shoeboxes are delivered through trusted local people, trusted both by their community and by Link to Hope.

People wrapped up against the winter chill were gathering to meet us, but here there was no community centre, just a rough concrete bus stop on a muddy track. As we looked around us we sensed an air of desolation, geese, cows and goats roamed on the scrubby open wasteland, traditional brightly coloured yet mostly very shabby homes were dotted around, and endless mud – you had to concentrate quite hard on not sliding over in it.

Shoebox Appeal - Lisa distributing

The community queued patiently at the van as Lisa, Maria and the Dancu team handed out the boxes, the bright Christmas paper bringing sparkle into the gloom of the weather and surroundings. Jane and Camilla had pockets stuffed full of toys and gifts which Shoebox supporters had given them, so handed these out to people who were waiting around, each item inducing smiles – both from the giver and the receiver.

The empty outer cartons were held onto by people here, some loaded onto the back of a karrutz for the family to take home. People are so worried about winter fuel, it is now so expensive and hard to find, so anything they can use is carefully saved. Outside one home we were shown a meagre pile of wood to last the whole winter, but making it last that long would be a huge challenge.

Shoebox Appeal - Horse & Cart

Vadim shared the sad story of one family here, which had made national news…  A mum and dad, who had five children which they struggled to look after. One mild autumn day, about three years ago, mum was at work, and beyond shocked to discover that she was pregnant and about to give birth! In her panic and shock she left the baby which was fortunately found by another couple. The mum, full of remorse, had gone to the police station to admit what she had done. Mum was arrested and put in prison for 3 weeks, whilst the police investigated the family’s circumstances. They surmised that actually, the other five children were well cared for, and the parents doing the best they could, and full of remorse as to what had happened with the newborn, so they were allowed to take the baby home and care for him themselves. Camilla had packed a Family Shoebox at home, so sat with the family as they excitedly unpacked the jam packed box, which had the essentials, plus other useful gifts to make them smile such as a wind chime, a lavender bag, a sewing kit, wind up torch and beautiful Christmas decoration. The children carefully took the objects out, often turning to pass one to their mum – hand cream, razors and a pretty brooch.

A later visit was to an elderly chap called Vasile, who was living in a house rented from the mayor with his daughter in law and grandson. His own home had caught fire due to an electrical fault. Vasile was incapacitated in bed as he had been for many years, he only had one leg, the other had been amputated as it ‘had frozen’ ie frostbite. Leonid’s wife had left him when he had lost his leg, but the daughter in law chose to stay with him and care for him. Leonid opened his shoebox and put on a pair of reading glasses which he found in the box. Apparently, this was the first time in a long time he could actually see well.  He then continued to carefully inspect all the other items he could now he could see particularly a mug that was in his shoebox.

Another man we went to visit lived alone. We found him in a tiny archaic room, with a small able on which were a few items of un-appetising looking food (we left him fresh fruit, which was an injection of colour and of taste) Sava had bare feet on a roughly carpeted floor (with just soil underneath). He had a massive pair of old fashioned crutches on which he was leaning. We passed him a good heavy elderly shoebox, but he seemed quite overcome and not able to think about opening it, so we left Sava with his shoebox to savour opening it at a later time, and just prayed that it would be the perfect box for him.

Our last visit of the day was to a house in Leușeni, to a man called Victor who lives with his sister Zina. Andrei explained that Victor was left with cerebral palsy at birth, so does not have much use or co ordination of his limbs. However, what was evident is that he does have great determination and a positive spirit. Victor managed to somehow haul himself independently up from the floor and onto his bed to receive a shoebox. This was a special box as it had been packed by Jane, and crammed with wonderful items for an older couple. Victor was delighted with the flat cap he found inside, and happily modelled it, he persevered with a harmonica, determined to get a sound out of it, despite the challenge of his disability and with his strength of character and focus I am sure will be able to play it more. His sister Zina was so pleased with a pair of pretty coffee cups and matching spoons, something they will use for ever, and think back to the fun time they had opening their shoebox.

A busy day, so many stories and evidence of the many challenges people here face daily. Yet more evidence of how badly these boxes are needed.

Day 5 - Dancu, Moldova

This morning we were able to visit some of the elderly folk who are part of Hanul Dragoște – the Link to Hope Inn of Love project.

The first visit was to Maria, a tiny elderly lady bent double at the waist. We made our way through her yard of detris, picking our way carefully through the mud and obstacles, wondering how she manages this challenge every day. Andrei knocked and called loudly for Maria, who appeared, dressed in thick trousers, a jacket which came almost to her ankles, a thick brightly coloured oversized pullover with the cuffs rolled up and fastened with a frayed dressing gown cord, then a warm pink headscarf. Maria shuffled slowly out, gaze fixed on the floor as her body is locked in that position. Maria was full of zest for life, chatting away with the team she knew so well. Camilla knelt on the doorstep to pass her the Elderly Shoebox, Andrei suggested Maria bring out a stool to sit on, as we were concerned she would not be able to hold the box. Maria shuffled slowly back into the warmth of her home, returning with a tiny wooden stool which we all fully expected her to sit on. Instead, she placed it on the floor in front of her and instructed Camilla to sit on it! Maria clearly enjoyed the company and time to chat with people. Loneliness is almost a disease in itself.

After a while we gently said our farewells then went as far up the muddy track up the hill as it was safe to take the car, walking the rest of the way, as the access was so bad. At the top of the hill was a small house where we found 74-year-old mum Vasilița, caring for her bedbound 32 year old son Valaria. We squeezed into the tiny dark room, where Andrei firstly gave them the food from the Inn of Love, and Jane passed them the fresh fruit and biscuits. It wasn’t heaps, But Vasilița said, with huge gratitude, that it would be enough to feed them for a month! Here we also saw their dog without a kennel, just a stool to shelter under.  One of our supporters built them a makeshift kennel out of things they found around the garden and since returning to the UK a kennel has been bought, with a nice warm blanket and ‘Peter’ the dog is very happy.

Our next visit to the school in Dancu did a lot to lift our spirits. It was a pleasure to be in the classrooms as the children opened their boxes, often carefully using scissors to save the paper. Objects were taken out, shown delightedly to each other, names and carefully placed to the side before taking out the next object. Even the simple items like flannels, toothpaste and shampoo were exclaimed over with pleasure. Candles, soap and lavender bags often sniffed with delight.  We had an English interpreter with us called Sharon who said the brown and yellow uniforms that some of the children were wearing had come from her old school in the UK.

When we had delivered all of the boxes, the children had prepared a Christmas presentation for us with some lovely Christmas songs, and presenting each of us with a Christmas picture they had made.

Jane gave them a wonderful book of pictures and messages the children at her school had made, and with the help of Sharon’s translation presented it to the headmistress.  It was so appreciated by all the staff and children and a lovely link between the schools. We were invited for refreshments with the headmistress and her team, and were invited to sign the visitors book.

Our first visit of the afternoon was to a large family living simply, in a tiny house. The mum was at home with five of her children, all of whom looked happy and very pleased to see us. Despite this family having so little, this mum is known for being content, and for caring for her family as best she can. Dad was out working, he is a shepherd locally. The family was all in one room, there was nowhere but for the two sleeping platforms, where all seven of them would squeeze up and sleep every night. The children looked so clean and well cared for, but there was no washing machine to be seen, but clothes hanging up drying both inside and out.

The family had been told we were visiting with gifts, mum was waiting to greet us, inadequately wrapped up against the winter chill, she welcomed us into the tiny room where the family probably spend most of their time. We could not all fit in the cramped room, so some of us stayed in the kitchen area where there was a simple stove, a small table and just a few meagre possessions. Jane and Camilla placed gifts of fruit and biscuits on the table, as a surprise for the family to find later. We peered round the corner to watch the children excitedly open the shoebox and marvelled at how they were so happy to share the gifts between them just delighting in having such gifts to share amongst them. A family who clearly have so little, but seemed so happy and content. When we left it was wonderful to imagine their surprise when they discovered the extra goodies of fruit and chocolate fairies.

It was back to the centre to be with the Children in the Hope Club, these are children who have additional needs, a chance for them to meet together, have fun and learn in a gentle way. Also for their parents to meet together and to receive support. This is such a big change from just a few years ago when disabled children and those with learning difficulties were hidden away and never left their houses.  Now they are celebrated in the community and parents are just so grateful for the support.  One of their activities today was a kind of a pass the parcel – with a shoebox! When the song stopped teach child in turn was encouraged to feel in the box and chose an item, which they clearly enjoyed doing. It seemed that little toy cars – and bags of sweets were the favourite items.

Before the evening drew in there was time for a final Shoebox delivery around the village. The final visit was to an elderly couple who lived with their daughter, her husband and three children. We started by giving the children their shoebox, they were somewhat reluctant to open it in front of so many people – with Andrei, Vadim and Sharon we were a group of seven. After a bit of gentle persuasion from the team here, the children carefully opened the shoebox, pulling out a slinky, which captured their attention, then chocolate was devoured with gusto. Once again, these children handed things to their mum from the shoebox which were more suited to her - time and time again we see this selfless giving and sharing from young people here.

We had selected a nice heavy elderly shoebox for the grandparents. As we entered the small room where the couple were sat on the bed, we were warmly greeted – with a degree of surprise, and the lady hurriedly tidied away the knitting she had been doing, we got that the couple were fairly immobile and spent a lot of time sat in this room. The couple were very happy to open the shoebox with us, and we were as delighted as them with the wonderful, thoughtful contents, including the first hot water bottle we had seen on this trip, a tote shopping bag, a sturdy pair of pliers, a set of dominoes, a sewing kit, set of forks, a lavender bag, pretty headscarf, a good selection of knitted winter woollies, and many other wonderful gifts. It was a wonderful final shoebox of the trip, and the couple were thrilled with it.

Day 6 - Dancu, Moldova         

Children started arriving early for the weekly Link to Hope Emmaus Club ( two hours early in some cases). This is a club that Link to Hope supports for children who are falling behind at school, who need a little extra help and guidance to achieve the best they can. Many also come from very poor backgrounds, with little to no parental support and many issues to deal with.  They also receive a much appreciated snack, which today was bread with chocolate spread and porridge which went down very well. It was good to see quite how keen the children were to be at Club Emmaus.  Testament to the caring nature of the team here and shows how the extra time and input given to these children is really valued.  Each child had been given a shoebox the day before and a Bag of Education which some of them brought with them to the Emmaus Club so they could use all the pens, pencils, paper, rulers and other items that were inside.

We were sad to say our farewells, but all felt so blessed and so humbled to be back here again.

For the SHOEBOX DELIVERY PHOTOS 2022 please follow the link