Almost 30 years ago now, in 1990, Dave and Jill Cooke of Wales were watching a report on television about orphans in Romania and immediately knew they needed to do something to help. They couldn’t bring them out of poverty, but they could let them know they mattered.
So they loaded up a convoy of nine trucks with medical supplies, food, clothing and Christmas gifts and drove to Romania. It marked the first of what has since become the world’s largest children’s Christmas program: Operation Christmas Child. Three years later, the initiative was taken on my Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization which provides aid to hurting people around the world.
Campbell Riverites have been participating in the initiative since 2008 and the shoe boxes are back again this year and now available for pickup at various locations around town, ready to be filled and collected for distribution to children in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Deana Longland, collection centre coordinator for Campbell River’s Operation Christmas Child initiative, says last year they collected 1,294 of the shoe boxes for distribution, down slightly from the previous year’s 1,756 – the most ever for the local team.
“There are numerous organizations competing for everyone’s donations and it is sometimes hard to decide who to support,” Longland says. The countries who are receiving these shoe boxes often have no internal support therefore rely on organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse to help make a difference. I hope people will give generously again and we can ship out 1350 shoe boxes this year from Campbell River, Quadra Island, Tahsis and Gold River.”
Longland has been on the distribution trips herself in 2013, and says it was life-changing to the joy that one of these small boxes brings to a child receiving it.
“It was an amazing experience, having packed shoe boxes for so many years, then to be able to actually give them out and see children’s faces light up with a huge smile,” she says. “They love to see a photo and a note from the sender, it makes it so personal. Each of these children appreciate that someone thought about them, and made them feel special.”
While the focus is on the kids around Christmas, Samaritan’s Purse helps in other ways, as well. While Longland and the team were in Costa Rica, they painted a mural in a rural school, and set up both dentistry and eye glass clinics. Samaritan’s Purse sent all the dental equipment along with the three dentists in the group, and with the help of the volunteers, offered for free dental work to 213 people. The Canadian Lions club sent eye glasses, and after doing eye exams, 229 people received glasses.
She remembers, in particular, a gentleman who liked to read to people who were sick, but he needed glasses in order to be able to continue to do so. He traveled 10 hours by bus when Samaritan’s Purse came in hopes they would have a pair that would work for them, which they did.
Shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child are available for pickup at various churches around town, as well as the Willow Point Dollar Store and Dollar Tree. After being filled, the boxes need to be returned to Discovery Community Church (250 10th Ave) between Nov. 19 and 24.
Those who would like to be involved, but can’t pack a complete box can drop off single donations that will be placed in boxes or donate $10 to help with the cost of distribution. this can be done online at www.samaritanspurse.ca (where you can also get instructions on how to pack a shoe box) or at the collection centre.
“People are living in dire poverty often in war torn countries where there is no opportunity for education or clean drinking water,” Longland says. “A simple shoe box gift will be a treasure to these children that we cannot comprehend.”