It has been a turbulent year for Shirebrook-based retailer Sports Direct.
However, that has not stopped the company from helping to spread Christmas cheer around the world.
The firm has co-ordinated the annual Operation Christmas Child shoebox initiative among schools in the Mansfield area, generating joy joy to parts of the world ravaged by war, poverty, famine, disaster or disease.
Chris Dean, senior human resources advisor at Sports Direct, said: “This is a fantastic campaign which gives children around the world, including some who have no family or who are orphans, a present to wake up to on Christmas morning.
“It can help make a child’s Christmas one to remember.”
Operation Christmas Child is run by the non-profit-making international relief and development charity, Samaritan’s Purse.
It invites schools, churches and businesses to fill shoeboxes with toys, sweets and everyday items such as soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hairbrushes, stationery, school books, calculators and colouring pads.
The boxes are then sent to youngsters in needy countries.
Last year, Sports Direct collaborated with schools close to its Shirebrook headquarters and collected 459 shoeboxes.
But this year, it has done even better, successfully bringing on board 13 schools, who have packed 812 shoeboxes.
Most of them are now winging their way to Liberia, a west African country hit badly by civil war in 2003 and then by an outbreak of the Ebola virus in 2014.
Chris said: “The response we have had from the schools has been absolutely brilliant. They have tried really hard, and we appreciate everything they have done.
“We provided the schools with all the information, such as leaflets, posters and DVDs, and then we collected their shoeboxes and took them to the Operation Christmas Child depot in Chesterfield.
“With each shoebox, there was a donation of £3 required to help cover the costs of getting them to Liberia. But Sports Direct paid this. The schools really enjoyed taking part.”
Chris remembers being involved in the initiative himself as a pupil at Church Vale Primary School, Church Warsop, back in the 1990s.
And his old school is one of those to have encouraged youngsters and their families to fill the special shoeboxes this year.
Jo Yardley, headteacher, said: “It is important children understand about helping others, charity and generosity, especially at Christmas time.
“They enjoy helping others and thinking about what life is like for others in less fortunate parts of the world.”
The biggest number of boxes, 211, was filled by Holly Primary School, Forest Town, which was singled out for praise by Sports Direct.
Chris said: “As a token of thanks, we have donated a pool table to the school.
“We wanted to give something back and to show the children that their hard work really does pay off.”
Holly’s collections were co-ordinated by teacher Caroline Savage, who said: “We ended up with a shoebox mountain in the classroom. I was so pleased with the response and really proud.
“The children loved being part of Operation Christmas Child. It brought huge benefits. We did a lot of background work on parts of Africa and how the children there live.
“It made our youngsters realise that the world is a very big place where many people are not as fortunate as we are.”
Other schools to have taken part this year were: Bramley Vale Primary, Shirebrook Academy, Whaley Thorns Primary, Creswell Junior, Sherwood Junior in Warsop, Park Junior in Shirebrook, Farmilo Primary in Pleasley, Mansfied’s Crescent Primary, Redgate in Mansfield, and Yeoman Park and Leas Park Junior, both in Mansfield Woodhouse.
Since 1990, a staggering total of 124 million shoeboxes have gone to boys and girls in 150 countries, mainly in Africa, central Asia and eastern Europe.
A spokesman for Samaritan’s Purse said: “The shoeboxes really mean something to these children, who need to know they are loved and cared for. When they receive them, they dance and cheer. It is amazing.”