Boxing days for Shirley this Christmas

Alex HurrellIN this week's Face to Face interview Shirley Barber, Norfolk co-ordinator for Operation Christmas Child, talks to Alex Hurrell.BORN into a Salvation Army family in Selby, Yorkshire, Shirley Barber has spent a lifetime practising the Army's doctrine of serving the community.Alex Hurrell

IN this week's Face to Face interview Shirley Barber, Norfolk co-ordinator for Operation Christmas Child, talks to Alex Hurrell.

BORN into a Salvation Army family in Selby, Yorkshire, Shirley Barber has spent a lifetime practising the Army's doctrine of serving the community.

Despite the death of her beloved husband John in March, Shirley is carrying on with their annual campaign to send thousands of gift-filled shoeboxes to under-privileged children.


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What began 15 years ago with 60 boxes stored at their home in St Andrew's Close, Buxton, is now a well-oiled operation involving some 40 volunteers who help collect and sort what Shirley hopes will this year be 15,000 boxes from all over Norfolk and parts of Suffolk.

They are taken by lorry from storage in a Spixworth farm shed to Norwich's twin Serbian city of Novi Sad and given out to children, some of whom live under bridges while others are squeezed with their families into one-roomed homes.

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This year's campaign will officially be launched with a service in Horsham St Faith's Church on November 7 at 2.30pm but already more than 500 boxes are awaiting collection and schools, churches of all denominations, women's groups, scouts and guides across the county have begun collecting items.

Shirley, 72, moved to Buxton with her four sons some 40 years ago following the break up of her first marriage to an RAF husband.

She took an auxiliary nursing job at the former Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, later moving to a post at Norwich tax office because of her childcare commitments. But she still found time to volunteer for two years with The Samaritans.

She and John married in 1975 and did everything together, including acting as joint churchwardens for Hevingham Church.

Shirley first read about Operation Christmas Child in a magazine. The project, run by Christian charity Samaritan's Purse, is occasionally accused of trying to convert children through religious pamphlets inside the shoeboxes.

But Shirley is adamant. She said: 'Ours don't have any literature in. They are boxes of love aimed at giving children what may well be their one and only Christmas present.'

What's the best thing about your role?

'Giving, without expecting anything in return.'

And the worst?

'People who put rubbish in their boxes. We've had chewed pencils, a toilet roll and even dirty socks! In one box for a two-to-four-year-old there was a pretty pink purse but inside we found Librium capsules. We even found a syringe in one box.'

Last year proved a headache when the Serbian government banned British jelly sweets from their country. Volunteers had to sift through each box, replacing any found. The embargo was lifted a week before the boxes left Norfolk but by then it was too late to restore them.

Favourite book, film, TV programme?

'The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton, is a very good book. I like Doc Martin on TV. I don't really have a favourite film but I saw Julie and Julia recently and it was very good.'

Best place in East Anglia?

'Walberswick where John and I went for a long weekend not long after we were married.'

What piece of music would you take to a desert island?

'Handel's Messiah. It's wonderful. I've sung it in St Andrew's Hall as part of a combined churches' choir.'

Tescos in north Norfolk towns - good or bad idea?

It doesn't really bother me - although it probably would if they wanted to build one in Buxton. I did hear people moaning that they didn't want one in Aylsham but now I know they shop there!'

Pet hates?

'Bad manners - people who don't say 'thank you''

What would you do with �10,000 to give away and �10,000 to spend on yourself?

'I'd make sure my family was all right and buy some heating for Hevingham Church. There's nothing I really want, except perhaps a personal trainer to get me walking again.'

Any unfulfilled ambitions?

'None.'

�IF you would like to get involved with Operation Christmas Child ring Shirley on 01603 279329.

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