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385 gift bags!

Do you have any idea how many boxes it takes to hold 400 toothbrushes, 400 tubes of toothpaste, 400 bars of soap and 400 bottles of lotion? I apparently did not. When the Sen Express delivery guy started carrying boxes in to our apartment, they. just. kept. coming.

That was the first time I started to think that maybe, just maybe, we’d gotten in over our heads on this one.

The Christmas card-making table just some of the many volunteers who helped out
The Christmas card-making table just some of the many volunteers who helped out

The second time I felt overwhelmed was when all the boxes were being unloaded, opened and lined up for people to go through and stuff wax-print gift bags with the toiletry items and then make Christmas cards.

But let me go back a bit… About two months or so ago, our church decided to do something special for Christmas for the inmates at three of Dakar’s prisons. That idea grew in several very cool directions, but I volunteered to help coordinate the gift bags so that’s where my focus stayed. Fortunately, my friend Monica jumped on board and we work really well together. (That’s code for: “We think very much alike, but her ideas are usually better than mine but since we work as a team, she makes me look good.“)

Monica, my gift bag-and-coffee buddy
Monica, my gift bag-and-coffee buddy

So we brainstormed and made lists, then drank coffee and made another list, emailed and texted our lists to each other… And the end result was 1600 toiletry items and 400 gift bags parked in my hallway, then loaded into cars and driven to our church’s Christmas pot-luck picnic where 100+ people helped stuff the bags and make handmade cards for all 385 inmates.

There are several key people (in addition to Monica) I want to thank who helped us pull this thing off:

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– Djiby from Malika Monkeys and Marietou from Khady Couture who made the 400 wax print bags. They were gorgeous and worked perfectly.

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Dakar’s best errand and delivery service. We’re big, big fans.

– Elhaji and Bima from Sen Express who helped us get price quotes on the toiletries (then haggled for a reduced rate), then bought and delivered the items… up four flights of stairs.

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Thierno

– Thierno from our corner buutik who got us a great deal on antibacterial soap and had it ready even before we needed it.

Maman Ndeye at the prison
Maman Ndeye at the prison

– Maman Ndeye, Seby, Jan and Michele who took these gifts to the prisons and coordinating the rest of the festivities and celebration, including a great meal!

– Everyone at ICF who gave generously so that we could plan these events in the prisons.

Aaaand that would be my son doing the 'drive-thru' at the pot-luck table.
Aaaand that would be my son doing the ‘drive-thru’ at the pot-luck table.

– My husband who watched the kiddos at the picnic so I could focus on the gift bag stuffing and card making.

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My friend Tabitha and her daughter working on gift bags

– AND… all those kids who stuffed bag after bag and made card after card! It was beautiful and amazing to watch. There were about 25 kids who just kept working, and I mean little ones too! Some of them had their parents with them, but most were just doing it calmly and orderly on their own. Grab a bag, put in a toothbrush, put in a toothpaste, put in a soap, put in a lotion… repeat. Thank you so much!

Me demonstrating gift bag assembly. I must have done well (even with my 'assistant') because the stuffers did great!
Me demonstrating gift bag assembly. I must have done well (even with my ‘assistant’) because the stuffers did great!
All loaded up and ready to go!
All loaded up and ready to go!
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