Christmas may be over, but Santa Claus still has plenty of deliveries to make in Switzerland and Belarus. Needy people in both countries will soon start to receive unwanted gifts donated by the Swiss.
The Swiss Red Cross supply centre in the Bern suburb of Wabern is a hive of activity as Red Cross volunteers busily sort through the mountains of gifts brought in as part of Switzerland's "Twice Christmas" campaign.
The volunteers are opening hundreds of parcels contributed by Swiss from all over the country and sorting the contents, which will make up the late Christmas gifts.
The idea is to give all those people who received well-meant but unwanted gifts at Christmas the opportunity to put them to good use instead of simply dumping them in the back of a cupboard or throwing them away.
Peter Stampfli, the head of logistics with the Swiss Red Cross, dips into some of the unsorted parcels and picks out bars of chocolate, packages of noodles, rice, and children's clothing and toys. Behind him the huge floor space is crammed with boxes of items ranging from oatmeal to soap and toothpaste.
Stampfli says he hopes that donors will contribute as many as 50,000 parcels by the time the campaign ends this weekend. Once the sorting is complete, the various Red Cross offices around the country send in their requests.
"They know the needs of the needy people in their areas, so they tell us what they need and they make up their own gift packages afterwards."
Stampfli says half of what comes in goes to the needy in Switzerland and half this year to families in Belarus. "We hope that we can send at least two truckloads to Belarus. That's two times 15 tonnes of items."
Stampfli admits that donors sometimes take advantage of the campaign to get rid of items that have been gathering dust for years. He recounts how one Swiss contributed a container of Ovomaltine dating back to the mid-50s. As a result the sell-by dates are more closely checked, he says.
This is the fourth year that "Twice Christmas" has given the needy a chance to enjoy a late but well deserved Christmas. Also involved in the campaign are the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation and Swiss Post.
by Paul Sufrin