CHRISTMAS may be a while away yet, but a group of busy elves in Charfield has nearly ticked all the boxes on its presents’ list.

The team of volunteers based at the village's Congregational Church has already prepared and wrapped 150 giftboxes, crammed with dozens of stocking fillers, for Blythwood Care's annual Shoebox Appeal, and is planning to tackle a further 150 before November.

For the third year running the group will be striving to bring a little holiday cheer to Eastern European children and elderly people living in dire poverty.

And to build on their past success, ambitious volunteers Terry and Jo Palmer, April Webb, David Roe and their fellow "packers", have decided to up the stakes this year and beat their previous record of 200 boxes by at least 100.

Mr Roe told the Gazette that although the boxes' content was very important, neatly wrapping each package in colourful Christmas paper was the most crucial part of the job.

"Children keep the boxes so that’s why we spend ages wrapping them in Christmas paper," he said.

"It takes about 20 minutes on average to fill and cover a box and people do about four boxes in two hours. For the people who receive them, this is probably the only present they will have in the whole year, whether they are children, teenagers or elderly people."

The volunteers have raised around £400 so far, and spent a lot of their own money towards presents, and are hoping the sum is enough to reach their 300 boxes target.

Mr Palmer, who along with his wife Jo has witnessed first-hand the living conditions of poverty-stricken populations in Romania and Hungary, said: "We’ve all made personal contributions. We do this to help and give to people in need. It could take you £5 or £6 to fill a box. We got a lot of our presents from the pound shop."

Appeal coordinator at the church, Miss Webb, added: "People have been very generous. People can still collect shoeboxes and give them to us, they can give us items or come to the church and help us. It’s not just about donating money."

The volunteers will meet once a week until November at 7pm at Charfield Congregational Church to fill the remaining boxes.

Their next packing sessions are on: Thursday, September 27, Wednesday, October 3, Thursday, October 11 and Wednesday, October 17.