The generosity of Guelphites saw a four per cent bump in 2019 over 2018 according to organizers of the Operation Christmas Child program.
“We are very grateful for the generosity of Guelph residents,” said Fred King, news media relations manager for Samaritan’s Purse Canada. “So many of them have caught the vision of this and are participating in a program that brings tremendous hope to children.”
Donations from Guelph rose from 3,460 in 2018 to 3,603 in 2019.
“Operation Christmas Child is a program of Samaritan’s Purse Canada,” said King. “It is probably one of the main things we are known for and how it works is that generous Canadians pack shoeboxes with toys, hygiene items, school supplies and other stuff. They drop them off at one of hundreds of collection centres across Canada.”
The boxes are then shipped to a warehouse in Calgary.
“We have tens of thousands of volunteers inspect every single shoebox to make sure there is nothing inside that could scare or harm a child or prevent the boxes from getting through customs,” said King. “After that they are packed into cartons and are shipped down to countries in Central America and West Africa.”
Specially trained volunteers from each country help get the packages through customs in their specific countries.
“They set up special distribution events in their countries where the boxes are then handed out to children who, in some cases, have never received a gift before in their lives,” said King.
The concept originated to help children impacted by war during the early 1990s.
“A couple from Wales saw children suffering during the Bosnian War,” said King. “They got together with their church to pack these boxes full of toys and gifts and shipped it to them. The thing kept growing to a point where they could no longer handle it and they asked Samaritan’s Purse to take it over and we said yes.”
The program has grown to include several other countries including Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, New Zealand, Spain and Finland.
“There is a long list of countries where the boxes are collected,” said King. “Since 1993 more than 177 million children have received gift-filled shoeboxes.”
Canadians donated nearly 491,000 out of more 10.5 million shoeboxes collected worldwide in 2019.
“We know lots of Canadians are struggling themselves during these tough economic times,” said King. “We are very grateful to these folks here and elsewhere who continue to support this ministry and give hope to children.”
It is a Christmas campaign but people can pack and donate shoe boxes online year round by visiting https://packabox.samaritanspurse.ca/.
“There is no specific deadline for that,” said King. “Anytime of year, day or night you can pack shoeboxes for children online. It’s a little bit like shopping on Amazon. You pick your gender, your age range, and then you are presented with a bunch of items and you can add on to those items if you want. You check out then. You pay your money. Then you’re good to go."
King said sending school supplies can provide long term benefits to children living in extreme poverty.
“In some of the countries the education system is free but the parents have to equip their kids with the school supplies, pencils, paper, erasers, pens, rulers, that kind of stuff,” he said. “For some families that alone means their kids don’t get an education.”
A box of school supplies can literally change their lives.
“When these kids get a shoebox packed by someone they will probably never meet from a country they may only have a vague awareness of and they open up that shoebox and there are pens and paper and erasers and school supplies they are overjoyed because now they get to go and join their friends at school,” he said. “Right there is the value of this incredible ministry. It is allowing some children to get an education.”