Not everyone wants socks for Christmas. The Wallich, a homelessness charity working in and around Newport and Gwent, wants to talk about a controversial subject this year: shoebox collections.

During the Christmas period, family, friends and festivities dominate our time. But sometimes our minds turn to people without those cherished things; vulnerable people without loved ones or homes – people living alone and on the streets. So, we begin to feel an urge to help, in any way we can.

Around Christmas time, homelessness and housing charities receive a lot of very generous donations of shoeboxes, toiletries, food and clothes from the public. They are distributed to those who need them but, due to the sheer amount of items collected, there’s usually too many. Many small charities become overwhelmed and many don’t have enough space to store things for when people need them throughout the rest of the year – not just at Christmas.

At The Wallich, we want to be able to provide provisions for our clients which are suitable, fit properly and protect against the weather. People come in all shapes and sizes and we want people to have a dignified experience when receiving donated clothes.

The items need to be appropriate and if we give the element of choice, it all goes towards building up a person’s confidence after being homeless.

We’re not telling everyone to stop collecting shoeboxes, but we are calling for a common-sense approach when it comes to donating items. Ask charities or individuals what they need. Or there’s another option: The Wallich’s Pass the Parcel scheme is an alternative to the traditional shoebox campaign. By going online, you can buy a “virtual shoebox” for £5, £10 or £25 each. This specific pool of money is ringfenced to buy brand new items for people that are the correct size.

The three shoeboxes on offer are inspired by real people who have worked with The Wallich; Cheryl, Bob and Lyn*.

The Cheryl box (Fresh & Clean Pack – £5)
Cheryl was sleeping rough and only had a few belongings. She carried a purse containing makeup, wet wipes and personal hygiene products which she always asked TheWallich to re-stock. She said, “Just because I’m homeless, doesn’t mean I have to look like a mess”. Personal care was important for Cheryl. The ability to keep  clean fosters dignity and self-worth and can be an important step in moving away from the streets.

The Bob box (Warm& Dry Pack – £10)
Bob had been on the streets for months and one of his biggest struggles was keeping warm and dry. Bob said, “When you get wet on the streets, you stay wet and you cannot warm back up. ”Warm, dry items such as thermals, waterproof bags and gloves can give some short-term comfort and keep people healthy until they ready to engage with services.

The Lyn box (Top-to-Toe Pack – £25)
Lyn was a slim man and a lot of the donated clothes available were too big for him, so he struggled to keep warm. Lyn resorted to accepting women’s
clothes and said that, although he was embarrassed, he “had no choice”. Choice is so important to people sleeping rough. In a devastating situation, the last thing vulnerable people need is to feel like they have no dignity and their choices have been taken away.

These boxes will also help rough sleepers in the future, not just in winter. Hot weather poses a new set of challenges. Those on the streets in August won’t need woolly hats, but water and sun cream.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals. To buy a Cheryl, Bob or Lyn virtual shoebox for someone experiencing homelessness in Newport, visit TheWallich website.