Children in South Sudan joyfully open their shoeboxes from a previous year’s Operation Christmas Child initiative. Shoeboxes are now available at various locations around town. Photo courtesy Samaritan’s Purse

Why not give a gift for a child who may never have received one this Christmas?

Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes available now to be filled and delivered all over the world

Sure, Christmas is still about two months away, but for some it’s already time to start shopping for a special someone in mind.

No, not a family member or close friend – though it’s good to start early for them, too – but a stranger who lives worlds away. A child living in poverty that otherwise will likely receive nothing at Christmastime and may have never received a gift in their lifetime.

Operation Christmas Child – an initiative of the Christian charitable organization Samaritan’s Purse – is encouraging the community to open their hearts this season and consider filling a small shoebox for a needy child.

Campbell Riverites are invited to fill a shoebox with small toys, school supplies, hygiene items, socks and other necessities for a boy or girl who otherwise would go without.

The shoeboxes, once filled and collected at Campbell River’s collection center (Discovery Church, the former Galaxy Theatre), are then hand delivered by an army of volunteers who travel to third world countries to put the shoeboxes into the hands of waiting children who are living in the midst of poverty, disease, war and natural disasters.

Deana Longland, Campbell River’s long-time Operation Christmas Child coordinator, knows first-hand what it’s like when a child receives their shoebox for the first time.

RELATED: Record year for shoebox giving in Campbell River

She joined a distribution trip to Costa Rica in 2013 and said that when the children gather to receive their shoeboxes, it’s akin to a giant birthday party, with the kids waiting in anticipation for what’s to come.

Campbell River pastor Jeff Germo, who volunteered with a distribution trip to Senegal two years ago, told the Mirror previously that the shoeboxes provide hope for each child that receives one.

“It was very emotional,” Germo said. “There’s joy in the moment for the child and the family and it does give them some hope that it’s not all bad out there.”

Germo said as amazing as it was to give out the shoeboxes, there was also some sadness as more shoeboxes were needed. He recalled how a group of children who were not able to receive a shoebox climbed up on the roof of a nearby church to watch the children who were gathered to receive a shoebox. Germo said it was heartbreaking to see that there weren’t enough shoeboxes to go around.

Which is why Longland encourages everyone who can, and who feels compelled, to fill a shoebox.

She says Campbell River has done an amazing job in previous years. Last year Campbell Riverites filled more than 1,500 of the shoeboxes. Since 1993, more than 157 million shoeboxes have been filled worldwide. Last year, Canadians alone donated 615,120 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for struggling children around the world.

Anyone who would like to participate this year can pick up a shoebox from the Collection Center – Discovery Community Church or various other churches, Willow Point Dollar Store, Dollar Giant, Island InkJet and the Travel Place. Shoeboxes are filled for either a boy or a girl in mind, between the ages of 2 and 4, 5 and 9, or 10 to 14.

Shoeboxes packed in western Canada will go to Guatemala, El Salvador Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Senegal, or Ukraine.

Shoeboxes must be dropped off at the Discovery Church (250 10th Ave.) from Nov. 13 to 18. To confirm Collection Center hours, call 250 287-8786. To learn more about how to pack a shoebox head online to SamaritansPurse.ca/OCC

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