Christmas is traditionally a time for getting together with family and friends to eat, drink and fall asleep in front of the Doctor Who Christmas special.
But for the British Armed Forces, things are often a little different.
For thousands of UK servicemen and women, Christmas will be spent away from home – many spending months separated from those they love.
It was when sending a Christmas box to her husband Derek in 2015 while he was serving in Afghanistan that Charlotte Park realised how many of our armed forces go without a single present to open.
She then came up with the idea to set up an initiative – Treats for Troops on Tour – as a sign of appreciation for the work our armed forces do.
Three years and 8000 morale-boosting boxes later, Charlotte has been recognised for her selfless actions for those troops deployed overseas by receiving the Points of Light award, recognising outstanding volunteers who are making a change in their community and inspiring others. The 46-year-old was also delighted to receive a personal message from Prime Minister Theresa May. Charlotte told the Evening News: “I am totally shocked and overwhelmed to have won the award. It is fantastic to be recognised but I did not expect this at all.
“I was quite shocked at how many soldiers go without packages at Christmas. I decided to make up 50 boxes with the help of family and friends and the reaction was amazing. In the first nine months we posted 1400 parcels to soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
“Especially at this time of year it is tough on the families as well as the soldiers. It is just something to help raise spirits and the troops are so grateful for what we do.
“I don’t know any of them but we get lots of people thanking us. The word is spreading and there is certainly more demand for the packages now than ever before. It is a lot of hard work but it is definitely worth it to know you’ve put a smile on someone’s face.”
The boxes provide items of welfare for soldiers such as snacks, toiletries, small items of clothing and gifts, with all parcels checked and weighed to ensure they are received safely.
Charlotte’s dedication sees her using her free time preparing hundreds of boxes at her Penicuik home while also juggling her full-time job as a healthcare assistant and a mum to two sons.
In a personal letter to Charlotte, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Through Treats for Troops on Tour, you are sending an important message of support to the Armed Forces personnel overseas who are making great sacrifices in the service of our country.
“Having sent special parcels to your husband Derek whilst he was serving in Afghanistan, you know what a difference small gifts can make in boosting morale. You should feel very proud of how you have grown this initiative to support so many troops, particularly at a time of the year when they are apart from their loved ones.”
Treats for Troops on Tour has grown year on year and Charlotte is now joined by three other volunteers, Heather in Aberdeen, as well as Donna and Jean in Drumchapel in delivering packages out to troops overseas including Iraq and Afghanistan.
Derek, a major in The Royal Highland Fusiliers 2nd Battalion currently based at Glencorse Barracks, has spent numerous long periods away from home having been deployed to Iraq, Germany and Northern Ireland, as well as nine months spent in Afghanistan.
Charlotte added: “It doesn’t get any easier being away from your family. Christmas is our busiest time but we also send boxes out for occasions such as Valentine’s Day and Easter.
“I’m getting more people contacting me asking to send packages to them, colleagues or one of their family members, and it is fantastic to hear people appreciate what we do.
“I never expected for the scheme to kick on like it has. It is now 100mph. It is my baby, well more of a toddler now, but it is definitely a group effort.”
Members of the public can donate to Treats for Troops on Tour at https://uk.gofundme.com/treats-for-troops-on-tour
The Evening News has teamed up with Tesco, Network Rail, Hibs, Hearts, NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government this year to run our Edinburgh Cheer Christmas campaign – aiming to make the city and the Lothians the “Capital of Kindness”.