Boxes of Christmas cheer are being gathered for children in need around the world.
Operation Christmas Child is currently underway where people in the community can fill a shoebox with gifts that will be distributed to children living in poverty in West Africa, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Last year 4,496 boxes were put together throughout Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
However, Barb Gustafson, coordinator of Operation Christmas Child for Ridge Meadows, is hesitant to have a goal this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You always try to exceed your goal, but because of the COVID we know that’s really disrupted a lot of people’s lives,” said Gustafson, adding that she is not expecting a large amount.
“I will be very happy if we get 3,000,” she said.
This year, members of Maple Ridge Baptist Church will be putting together 1,200 boxes. Last year they did 1,500 boxes, noted Gustafson.
Boxes can be picked up at either Dollar Tree in Maple Ridge – at 11932 207 St. or at Haney Place Mall.
Then they can be filled with items such as stuffed toys, pens, pencils, notepads, socks, soccer balls with pumps, skipping ropes, non-liquid person hygiene items like toothbrushes and soap or anything else that can fit into the box.
In Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows volunteers have been working hard all year to make hand-made items for the boxes, explained Gustafson. Items like crocheted soap bags that also serve as a wash cloths, and felt animal stuffies in the shape of kittens, dinosaurs, butterflies, elephants and puppies.
Also a group of volunteers have put together sanitary kits for older girls, aged 10 to 14.
“Because some girls can’t go to school when they get their period,” noted Gustafson.
“Having this kit allows them to still go to school and have something that is useful to them,” she added.
Gustafson is quick to point out that there are items that are not allowed in the shoe boxes including: toothpaste; any liquids; candy; used or damaged items; war-related items like toy guns, knives or military figures; food or powdered drink mixes; lotions; medications or vitamins; breakable items; or aerosol cans.
Gustafson has been working with Operation Christmas Child since 2000 and has been on four trips to hand out boxes.
During these trips she would often hear people say that they can’t believe somebody from so far away would think about them and care about them.
She loves helping the children.
“Giving them a measure of happiness, especially so they don’t feel forgotten,” she said.
She is also constantly touched by generosity in the community. One man, in particular, who came into the drop-off centre last year, who could only afford to donate 25 cents to the cause after he learned what they were doing.
“He insisted that we take this coin for the children,” explained Gustafson, even though it was all the money he had.
“Just the whole meaning behind that was so touching to us,” she said.
Since 1993, and regardless of race or religion, Operation Christmas Child has given over 167 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children living in poverty, war, famine and disease in more than 160 countries, added Gustafson.
According to their website, Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization that provides spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, the organization has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine, “with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ”.
This year boxes can be dropped off at Maple Ridge Baptist Church at 222 Street and Lougheed Hwy. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Nov. 16-22.
In order to protect people during the pandemic, it will be a drive-by drop-off event where volunteers will unload the boxes from the cars, so donors don’t have to exit their vehicles.
The boxes will then be placed in cartons to be sent to Calgary where they will be processed before being sent to their destination countries.
For more information on what to include in a shoebox go to samaritanspurse.ca.