Meet Ethel Urquhart, a Highland grandmother and great grandmother whose generosity knows no bounds.
Mrs Urquhart, who lives in Fortrose, has been collecting items to donate to Blythswood Care’s shoe box appeal for years.
Plenty of generous people do, but there’s a slight difference with her.
Rather than fill just one box to aid people of all ages in deprived countries, Mrs Urquhart has gone above and beyond – by filling a mammoth 465.
Mrs Urquhart regularly adds items to her shopping basket all year round with the appeal in mind.
She also knits hats, scarves and mitts for inclusion in the boxes.
However, humbly she says it is merely a hobby.
Mrs Urquhart said: “I started doing the boxes about 15 or 16 years ago. I did 14 boxes and we took them to the shop in Muir of Ord and I thought that was good.
“I then carried on and did 100, 150 and last year it was 359.
“This year it was 465.”
Her efforts are so well recognised that people are even dropping boxes off at her home prior to collection, with 15 handed in to add to her 465.
Others have even donated wool to aid her knitting efforts, with Mrs Urquhart also requesting items for the boxes rather than gifts for her birthday.
The local post office also helped this year by donating unsold wrapping paper from last Christmas.
The 79-year-old said: “I haven’t been going anywhere on any holidays and I just buy extra when I am getting my shopping.
“The pound shop does quite well out of me because I get notebooks and pencils from there. I get the toothpaste out of Morrisons because that is the cheapest place.
“I know where to go and every box gets a hat, scarf and gloves, toothpaste, a face cloth and soap, a notebook, pencils and pens and underwear.
“I go into Deichmann every so often and get some boxes.”
Dining room takeover
Asked about her motivation, Mrs Urquhart said: “We have too much and they have not got enough.
“It is aid that reaches the people.
“You can put money in a collection box and you don’t know where it goes, but filling a box, it gets to a person.”
The intricate operation flows through Mrs Urquhart’s dining room, where items are collated before being sorted into individual boxes.
The operation gets so large prior to collection that the great-grandmother ensures a gap is left around the boxes so she can view the television.
‘It keeps me from wearying’
Mrs Urquhart added: “In the church, people now give me stuff rather than do a box themselves.
“It keeps me from wearying.
“If it is my birthday, I will often say to just give me some toothpaste for the boxes.
“I have decided this year that I will do one a day. I have started now the boxes are away.
“God willing, I am aiming to do 365 for next year.
“There are a lot of things I can’t do. I cannot drive, I cannot swim and I cannot play the piano – but I can fill a box.
“I have enjoyed doing it and it just became a hobby.”
The boxes, once collected and sorted by many volunteers, are loaded onto lorries with their final destination in mind.
This year they will be distributed in Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Kosovo, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine.
What goes into a shoe box?
Each shoe box is different depending on the age and gender it is tailored for.
A handy check list is provided by Blythswood to ensure appropriate items are delivered to the recipients of boxes.
The age of the person intended for is also marked on boxes so that when it comes to distribution, the process is flawless.
How should a box look?
Blythswood request that boxes be covered in wrapping paper with all packaging and labels removed from items.
Items have to be brand new and are made up from the list of essential items, alongside toiletries, miscellaneous items, stationery and clothing.
Essential items include:
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Hat, scarf and gloves
- Small toy
- Sweets (with a best before date beyond March 31)
Other optional items include shampoo and shower gel, screwdrivers and pliers, and clothing such as t-shirts and pyjamas.
Shoe box appeal originated in Highlands
The shoe box appeal started from the Highlands in 1993 when 300 boxes departed for the Romanian city of Cluj.
Since then, more than 2.4 million boxes have been distributed to poorer countries since the idea’s inception.
Volunteers from the Highlands often visit countries to aid in distributing boxes, however, due to the pandemic, they have been unable to for the past two years.
Blythswood’s head of fundraising and marketing Danny Muschate said: “We are always blown away by the generosity of people each year, but Ethel’s efforts are outstanding.
“A commitment from someone like Ethel, who does so much every year, just blows your mind.
“The impact each and every box has is colossal.
“Everyday items we often take for granted are celebrated by people of all ages, and they are just beaming with happiness.”
Volunteers are still sought to assist the charity with loading the boxes onto lorries at their Harbour Road base.
Shifts at the facility, opposite National Tyres by the fire station, are between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.