Box of Hope: We chat to founder Nicole Woolhouse at her beautiful home in Tai Tam - Expat Living Hong Kong

Box of Hope: We chat to founder Nicole Woolhouse at her beautiful home in Tai Tam

Today is not a normal Tuesday in the life of Box of Hope founder Nicole Woolhouse and her team of volunteers, but a well-earned treat before summer ends and the hard work of the annual fundraising drive kicks into action; it’s not an easy task to coordinate the collection of over 17,000 Christmas boxes from over 40 schools across Hong Kong and deliver them to deserving children across Asia. The venue for this team gathering is Nicole’s stunning garden, high in Tai Tam, with views down to Stanley and beyond.

Nicole launched Box of Hope back in 2008 with her close friend Harriet Cleverly who sadly relocated to London soon after, but such was the enormous success of the first two years that she soon had to recruit some new volunteers to the team. She currently has about nine on-board year round, each with their own specific talents and roles to play.

Janey is an equity analyst by day and a busy mum but she still manages to take on the role of Box of Hope’s Corporate Involvement Coordinator each year. “I became involved with Box of Hope just one month after arriving in Hong Kong and I enjoy every minute of it,” she admits. “It is very rewarding and different from my day job and I’ve met fantastic friends through it.”

Although the founding principle of the charity is for the privileged children of Hong Kong to help those less fortunate, Janey’s role in attracting cash injections from corporates is becoming increasingly important. “When we started the charity we had just 1,200 boxes and a handful of recipient charities,” explains Nicole. “We now have over 17,000, which is fantastic, but more boxes means more costs. HK$17 per box goes just on logistics and we couldn’t do it without the help of a lot of individuals and businesses across the city.”

Alexandra, a former banker, is in her third year of volunteering with Box of Hope. She surprisingly committed to the cause even though one of her first introductions was spending an eight-hour day in a dark room packing boxes whilst breaking fingernails. She is now part of the New Recipients team, which involves seeking out new and worthy causes for Box of Hope to support; including Small Group Foster Homes here in Hong Kong and Macau and larger, more well known charities such as the Cambodian Children’s Fund.

The reaction from all the children, Nicole admits, still leaves her speechless. “It makes you realise quite how lucky our children are. I’ve seen toddlers in the Philippines colour every single square centimetre of a colouring book, where ours will just have a go and throw it away. The children also really treasure everything they are given; even the box, especially one decorated by a child here, is a prized possession.”

Sally and Lucy are two of the longest serving members of the committee. Sally, who used to be in event management in the financial sector, is the logistics and shipping coordinator with the unenviable task of organising the 17,000 pick-ups from over 40 schools. Thankfully Crown Relocations and AGS now donate vans for the task but back in the early days things were very different. “It used to be the mums that would collect and transport boxes in the back of cars. The bigger your car the better; we actually worked out you could fit 250 boxes in the back of a Volvo XC90.”

As well as the invaluable work of the team of volunteers, and corporate sponsors, family members also get involved in the pre-Christmas Box of Hope frenzy. Lucy, a long-time friend of Nicole’s who has seen the charity grow from initial idea to the success it is today, admits that her daughter loves it so much that she would like to be a Box of Hope permanent employee. All the husbands offer help through their contacts and many send corporate teams to assist with the massive task of box checking. Even the ladies’ amahs get involved, especially when they realise that a lot of the boxes are benefitting children back home in the Philippines.

At the end of the day, despite the huge personal gratification that comes from playing a part in any charity work, the aim of Box of Hope is to educate children here about the plight of others and to bring some joy to those less fortunate. As Sally says, “Working with Box of Hope has opened our eyes to so many needy children on our doorstep here in Hong Kong and the rest of Asia. Most expats live a very privileged life and you don’t immediately think about it until you do something like this. It’s very humbling.”

Box of Hope is run entirely by volunteers. If you think you have time to spare and would like to help, here are the ways you can:

  1. Volunteer to be a Box of Hope co-ordinator at your school or company.
  2. Run a Box of Hope party at home. Invite all your friends and make boxes together!
  3. Hold a fundraising activity for Box of Hope.
  4. Volunteer a team to come to the storage offices to label and pack boxes for shipping to the recipients.
  5. Become part of the core team and help run Box of Hope Limited. (Please outline any relevant experience).

If you are interested please send an email to info@boxofhope.org outlining which area you would like to help with and why.

The 2013 Collection Week runs from 4 to 8 November so start packing!