Campbell River’s Jake Johnson plays with a little girl in Costa Rica while volunteering to distribute Operation Christmas Childs shoeboxes last year.

Time to start thinking of giving

It’s that time a year again when those who are able to lend a hand, fill a shoebox full of small gifts for children

The holidays may still be nearly two months away, but for Deana Longland it’s already time to start thinking about gift giving.

That’s because Operation Christmas Child, a project that’s near and dear to her heart, is already underway.

It’s that time a year again when those who are able to lend a hand, fill a shoebox full of small gifts for children in impoverished countries.

Longland, who has been the collection coordinator in Campbell River for several years, says she knows first hand what the shoesboxes – which for some are the only Christmas present a child will receive – mean to the kids who receive them. The shoeboxes are also the catalyst for something much bigger.

Last year, Longland, her daughter Rhiaanah Villalobos and her friend Jake Johnson joined up with a team of 28 fellow Canadians and 16 Costa Ricans to delivers shoeboxes in rural areas of Cost Rica.

“We thought our goal was to deliver shoeboxes and to help with children’s ministry,” Longland says. “Quickly we learned there was a much bigger plan.

“Samaritan’s Purse Canada sent all the equipment and supplies to operate both dental and eye glass clinics.

“Two hundred and thirteen Costa Ricans received dental work and 229 people had their eyes tested and received glasses.

“We also painted the inside of a rural school and fixed the fans and lighting.”

This year, shoeboxes filled in Canada will go to children in Uruguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea, Costa Rica, Guinea, Haiti, Nicaragua, Chile and Senegal.

What goes in the shoebox depends on the giver. Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian organization that organizes Operation Christmas Child, encourages each donor to write a letter to the child and send a photo of themself along with a variety of school supplies, toys and hygiene products that will not break, or leak, or harm a child.

Last year, Canadians filled 664,066 shoeboxes.

Almost 10 million were collected worldwide and distributed on all continents, excluding Antarctica.

The shoeboxes are often something the children who receive them never forget.

Damaris Vezentan, one of the first to ever receive an Operation Christmas Child shoebox, still has several of the gifts she received in 1990 while living with her parents in Romania.

“The shoebox I received when I was nine included items like soap, a small porcelain doll, crayons and markers, hair clips, and a notebook with locket that I kept and still have,” Vezentan said in an impact story on the Operation Christmas Child website.

Today, Vezentan is now a Canadian citizen living in Ontario and has volunteered in Senegal giving out shoeboxes to other children. Vezentan and her daughter fill a shoebox every year.

Those interested in filling a shoebox can visit www.samaritanspurse.ca and click on the Operation Christmas Child link for guidelines on what can and can’t go in the shoebox.

Shoeboxes can be picked up in Campbell River at both Timberline and Carihi, Periscope Promotions, Tap Bookkeeping, The Travel Place, and at various community churches.

Shoeboxes need to be in the week of Nov. 18-Nov. 23 and can be dropped off directly at the Campbell River Collection Centre which is at Discovery Community Church (old Galaxy movie theatre) on 10th Avenue.

For more information or to volunteer at the collection centre call 250-287-8786.