The Santa Shoebox Project originated in Cape Town in 2006 with 180 shoe-boxes. In 12 years, it has grown in leaps and bounds, with the number of Santa Shoe-boxes donated reaching 762 594. Photo: Phando Jikelo / African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town – Tinsel and fairy lights. Fake snow and mistletoe. Jingle Bells blaring through the speakers of department stores, luring you inside to shop.

Malls are abuzz with shoppers filling trolleys with gifts for loved ones, going through the painstaking process of getting the perfect gift. Then there’s nothing worse than the disappointing look on the face of the receiver when he or she didn’t get the gift they truly desired.

Then there are those faces that will light up with the biggest smile, and their eyes will sparkle, regardless of the gift they receive.

Some eyes will well up, simply because you’re present - a gift that will bring you joy, although you’ll get nothing in return.

With so many women, men and children who are homeless, orphaned, sheltered from abuse or forgotten about in old age homes, there’s no need to splurge on expensive gifts that might be unappreciated.

You’re probably wondering how you can brighten up their Christmas day. Here are a few organisations who have made it their duty to do just that.

The Santa Shoebox Project originated in Cape Town in 2006 with 180 shoe-boxes. In 12 years, it has grown in leaps and bounds, with the number of Santa Shoe-boxes donated reaching 762 594.

The shoe-boxes are distributed to more than 1 000 recipient facilities each year, through more than 60 satellites around South Africa and Namibia.

The success of the project can largely be attributed to its personal nature - donors give gifts to children whose names, ages and gender are known.

The project is supported by an extensive network of volunteers across South Africa and Namibia - kind-hearted people who give freely of their time, energy and expertise without remuneration. It also relies on the generous backing of various corporate sponsors pledging monetary or pro bono support. 

An unnamed volunteer of the Mustadafin Foundation, packing some of food that will be donated. Photo: Phando Jikelo African News Agency (ANA)

All you have to do is fill a shoe-box with goodies that are appropriate for a specific age and gender, and deliver it to your nearest drop-off location.

The Mustadafin Foundation has been hosting Christmas lunches for the past 31 years and focuses on distributing them at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, as well as to poverty-stricken communities in Mitchells Plain, Brooklyn, Khayelitsha and other disadvantaged areas in the Western Cape.

The organisation also has a Toy and Stationery Drive to bring smiles to the faces of some 1 000 orphans and vulnerable children aged between three and 16.

You can support this drive and donate new or used gifts for children, which can include anything from clothes to games. Donations can be dropped at their offices.

The Shoe-box of Love Programme is an initiative of Operation Shoe-box. With this project, you’re able to make a difference in three different ways. Much like the Santa Shoe-box Project, you can create a Shoe-box of Love. If you opt to “adopt” a child, he or she will supply you with their name, age, gender, clothing and shoe size, their favourite colour and sport, grade at school, their hobbies and interests and “likes”.

This will allow you to personalise your shoebox of love before dropping it off at one of their drop-off points.

You could also donate your time. The Shoebox of Love Programme (“Shoebox”) is manned completely by volunteers.

They are always on the lookout for people who would like to get involved in the sorting and distribution of the boxes, if you are keen to “get your hands dirty” and meet some truly wonderful people in the process.

Then there’s the option to donate cash towards a Shoebox of Love or towards the cost of hosting a Christmas Tree event.

The costs involved here include transport to the venue, venue hire, catering, refreshments and entertainment, and if sufficient funding allows, thank-you gifts for the carers at the charity who look after the children and old folk.

To bring joy to someone on Christmas day doesn’t have to cost a thing. Your time, hug and a smile are all that some people need.