YOU may not be thinking about Christmas shopping just yet – but people in Dorset are being urged to put together a gift for children in poverty overseas.

Peter and Eileen Ivermee have run the Dorset arm of Operation Christmas Child – also known as the shoebox appeal – for international relief charity Samaritan’s Purse since 2002.

The couple, who live in Christchurch, have been visiting schools, churches, groups and individuals for the last couple of months to encourage them to fill a shoebox with Christmas presents.

All the boxes are collected at a Christchurch warehouse and checked by volunteers, before being shipped to 13 different countries across Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia to make a Christmas wish come true for children which would otherwise not receive presents.

Last year, a total of eight million shoeboxes were collected worldwide and sent to needy children and the Dorset branch alone has collected 250,000 in the 11 years Peter and Eileen have been overseeing the project.

Eileen said: “The first year was amazing, volunteers came from all over, the boxes came in, and it’s just really grown in the area.

“We have about 140 schools and churches and groups and lots of individuals. We get about 20,000 boxes a year, but it’s never enough.”

The couple have both been out to various countries to deliver boxes over the years, including Romania, Serbia, Belarus and Russia.

Eileen added: “It’s lovely to see the reaction and you see the real need. We are showing our children what life is like, because they don’t really understand.

“The message is that you can make a difference to another child.”

  •  Shoeboxes can be dropped off at various collection points around Dorset between November 1 and 18. To find out what to include in your shoebox and where to hand it in, visit the website