Operation Christmas Cheer: Give the gift of friendship with a shoebox of treats and a message for an elderly person
The Indie and The Welbeloved Club are not letting the coronavirus pandemic put a dampener on Christmas for elderly people stuck at home.
Social restrictions as a result of Covid-19 mean that we can't run our hugely successful Indie Christmas Dinner Appeal in aid of the club's 142 aged members for the third time – so we're launching Operation Christmas Cheer instead.
We've got together with club founder Jo Gill to come up with a new appeal – to give the gift of friendship in a shoebox.
The Welbeloved Club was launched by 28-year-old Jo in February 2018 to combat social isolation among the elderly. It is named in memory of her great-grandmother, Doris Welbeloved.
On the first Sunday of each month, dozens of socially isolated senior citizens gather at the Sawbridgeworth Memorial Hall and pay £5 for a two-course lunch and, more importantly, company. Jo's mum Gill is chief cook and they are supported by a regular band of volunteers.
For the last two Christmases, Indie readers have come up with the goods – literally – to provide almost 200 old folk from Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth with an unforgettable festive feast.
Their generosity enabled older people who would otherwise have been home alone to come together for, in some cases, their only Christmas occasion.
They supplied all the food, drink, decorations and crackers required to give The Welbeloved Club's Christmas dinner at the Memorial Hall all the festive feels.
Elderly diners tucked into a meal of turkey and all the trimmings, Christmas pudding with mince pie and brandy sauce or cream, followed by tea or coffee. Indie readers also supplied Prosecco, wine, sherry and soft drinks – plus gifts for each guest to take home and prizes for a raffle.
There was support from businesses like Stephens Butchers on Stortford's Parsonage estate, Hanbury Wealth, Floral Desire Florist, N H Eaton French Polishers, Sawbridgeworth duo Panache Dry Cleaners and Mint Café, and R. Purvis Property Services of Elsenham.
Jo said: "Little did we know that our lunch in March was going to be our last for a while. The Welbeloved Club has been on hiatus since lockdown began, and since then we've been exploring different options in order to still support our members living on their own.
"With isolation now imposed on us all, now more than ever it’s so important we continue to run and find new, safe ways of helping our older community.
"With Christmas lunch off the table this year, we're hoping to still give our members a Christmas to remember by providing them with the gift of friendship."
What is Operation Christmas Cheer?
We are looking for Indie readers – as individuals, families, households, friends, colleagues, neighbours, classmates – to fill 140 shoeboxes, or small hampers, with small treats and a Christmas card with a message for the elderly recipient.
Jo said: "There's nothing our members love more than to read letters and cards from members of their community, especially during the Christmas period. So, please do include a message/card in your shoebox."
What should we put in our Operation Christmas Cheer boxes?
Boxes can be made up for women, men or either.
Items can include sweets, chocolates, alcohol, stationery, books, crossword and/or sudoku compilations, socks, handkerchiefs, gloves, scarves, toiletries, other smellies, candles, gift vouchers... and anything else you think they may enjoy!
Please do NOT include anything that is perishable or needs to be kept in the fridge.
But please DO include a Christmas card or message and a return address if you would like to give the elderly recipients the chance to reply.
Where should we take our Operation Christmas Cheer boxes?
Boxes can be dropped off at the Bishop's Stortford Independent office at 12 North Street in Stortford (CM23 2LQ) – we're open weekdays from 9am to 5.30pm – or at 20 Cedar Park, Thorley Park (CM23 4JU).
When do we need to drop them off by?
The boxes will be delivered to the 140 Welbeloved Club members by a team of volunteers in the week before Christmas. The deadline for dropping them off is 6pm on Monday December 14.
Any questions can be emailed to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Anyone can put together a present box – families, children, adults," said Jo. "It doesn’t have to specifically be a shoebox, just anything that's a similar size. But it must include a nice message or a card."