This year’s Operation Christmas Child appeal has been launched in a special event to celebrate 20 years of the charity gift drive.

The 2012 campaign, in which gift-wrapped shoeboxes filled with toys are donated for underprivileged children across Eastern Europe, started with a fundraising event at Melksham Assembly Hall last Saturday.

Craft stalls, knitting displays and a shoebox-wrapping demonstration were on offer, as well as an exhibition of photographs showing last year’s boxes being distributed in Ukraine.

The annual shoebox appeal is organised by the Samaritan’s Purse international relief organisation, which raised £560 for its African appeal at the launch.

The money from brought in by the stalls will purchase 11 water filter systems, which can be used to provide clean drinking water to villages in Africa.

Bev Viveash travelled to Ukraine last year, to see the appeal in action, and was at the launch on Saturday.

She said: “We were really, really pleased. It went really well. We had lots and lots of people – between 150 and 200 – come through the door.

“We had a popular cake stall and books for sale, as well as activities for children. They could make bracelets and decorate the shoeboxes.”

The campaign will start collecting on November 12, when completed shoeboxes can be handed in at designated collection points across the county, including the Wiltshire Times offices in Duke Street, Trowbridge.

The boxes will then be taken to a depot in Bowerhillm, Melksham, to be loaded on to lorries with other boxes from around Wiltshire, then shipped to children’s charities and orphanages in Eastern Europe.

The full list of the county’s drop-off locations is expected to be confirmed next week.