THOUSANDS of gift-filled shoeboxes have been safely delivered to impoverished Romanian children in time for Christmas.

Kendal father-of-two Jonathan Robb was among the party of seven volunteers from Cumbrian charity Boxes of Hope who drove right across the Eastern European country handing out parcels. Their journey took them from the Hungarian border in the west to Moldova in the east, a six-hour drive over mountains in a mini van and trailer.

The volunteers handed out 8,000 of the 10,133 gift-filled shoeboxes made up by generous folk throughout South Lakeland, together with hand-knitted and crocheted clothing to keep babies and children warm in temperatures of -10C or colder.

Chaperoned by Romanian charity People to People Foundation, the party was welcomed with open-armed hospitality, hot chicken soup and a Nativity performance. Families invited them into their cramped mud huts made from old doors, lino and tarpaulin, where they sleep ten to a bed, with water fetched by bucket and no electricity.

"It's a real privilege to go and actually give out all the boxes that people here have spent weeks and months making," Jonathan told the Gazette.

"You're going with a gift, and you could tell these kids have never had anything like that before. Some of them didn't know what to do with it. Their faces light up when they see all these things that are theirs."

An abiding image from the trip is that of children with grime-blackened hands and faces eking out a living by foraging for plastic on a rubbish tip in Romania's second city, Cluj-Napoca.

"What you see is shocking because you don't believe somewhere so near to here can be like that," said Jonathan, who works at the Lakeside Hotel, Newby Bridge. "It's the sort of thing you think goes on in Africa, but it's nearly on our doorstep. It's only a two-and-a-half hour flight."

Amid the abject poverty and thick mud, the volunteers saw signs of hope, such as at Tinca village school, in Transylvania, where gypsy and Roma children are being educated thanks to sponsorship by Boxes of Hope Cumbria.

Representing Boxes of Hope in Romania were the charity's chair, Rosemary Webster, Dave Ratcliffe of Natland, solicitor Nicola Steadman, Kirkbie Kendal School teacher Karen Simkins, and Barrow-in-Furness head teachers Caroline Vernon and Caroline Hoggarth.

Plans have already been made for a return trip to Romania in March, to discuss future projects at Tinca school.

Charity volunteer Dave Ratcliffe told the Gazette: "All you can do is show these children that people care - that there is, if you like, love in the world. That's all you can do."

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