High River ready to give to Operation Christmas Child (November 13, 2014)

Written by Kevin Rushworth

Published by High River Times on Thursday, November 13, 2014

A little over 20 years has passed since Samaritan’s Purse adopted Operation Christmas Child, the well-loved program that in its two decades has seen Canadians packing shoe boxes with gifts destined for children around the world.

Started by Welsh couple Dave and Jill Cooke in 1990, Operation Christmas Child was adopted by the international humanitarian agency in 1993.

Today, over 100 million shoe boxes have been packed and delivered by not only Canadians but those from other nations, such as Australia, Finland, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom among others.

Jim Graham, volunteer co-ordinator with Operation Christmas Child, has been organizing the collection of shoe boxes from High River and its surrounding communities since 1996.

Initially, he first learned of the program when he was principal at Blackie School. A parent, he explained, first came to him with information about the shoe box campaign back in 1994.

“It was an excellent thing to do at home,” he said, speaking about kids who packed the boxes. “It was a reminder to them what benefits they have here at home in Canada, how fortunate we are.”

Graham said the kids learned a few items that didn’t cost much could be seen as a blessing to kids on the other side of the world. The reward, he said, comes as many feel they’re providing “gifts of love.”

Currently, Graham said he co-ordinates the Operation Christmas Child collection in High River, Longview, Blackie, Cayley, Brant and Nanton. Okotoks covers Turner Valley and Black Diamond, he added.

This year, six High River churches and seven schools throughout the area are participating in the project. Some 600 shoe boxes were delivered to the groups taking part in Operation Christmas Child.

In addition, nearly 200 shoe boxes were provided to the dollar store, Graham explained.

No matter if participants received shoe boxes from their church, schools or fill their own empty shoe boxes, Nov. 17 through 23 marks Operation Christmas Child’s national collection week.

Once filled, local organizers ask that the shoe boxes be returned to the partnering churches, schools or delivered to the High River Alliance Church. Completed boxes will be packaged for transport on Nov. 23.

Most of the Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes will be delivered to such nations as Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Venezuela. Other shoe boxes will be sent overseas.

Some, according to Graham, will be shipped to the disputed border region in Ukraine and refugee camps where people are living after fleeing conflict in Iraq and Syria.

“It’s adults who pick the fights and politicians, at some distance, who often goad the thing into a fire, but it’s children who as a result, lose parents, their school or themselves,” Graham said.

Verna Besselink, youth lay minister at High River United Church, said their community meal and packing session will be held at the church on Nov. 14.

“What makes it a wonderful program is that young people get to help other young people,” she said, noting the importance of youth understanding it’s alright to give up time to assist others.

As the community has received much in the months after the flooding, Besselink said Operation Christmas Child is yet another way for town residents to give back.

“What excites me is talking to the youth and getting them to understand these boxes are going to young people, some of them perhaps their own age or younger who have nothing,” she added.

Besselink believes the youth enjoy the program because they understand how it feels to open a gift that they don’t know what will be found inside.

She explained Operation Christmas Child is about kids helping kids and families helping families.

“I don’t even know if (we) have to be proud,” she said, when asked how the community should feel about lending a helping hand. “It’s just part of who we are as human beings.”

“We can be proud that we can do it, but why wouldn’t we want to do it?” she asked.

Two years ago, some 250 boxes were packed from the High River United Church alone. In 2013, however, the 40 boxes packed meant the town wasn’t in a position to give, Besselink said.

“We can be just as vulnerable as someone on the other side of the world and now that we’re recovering from that, people want to give,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea.”

During the church’s Friday packing session, the evening begins with a dinner at 6 p.m. While those interested had to pre-register for dinner, Besselink said residents are welcome to come at 7 p.m. to help pack.

For important information about the Operation Christmas Child program, tips on how to pack the shoe boxes and what items are allowed in the boxes, please visit http://www.samaritanspurse.ca/.

Read more: http://www.highrivertimes.com/2014/11/13/high-river-ready-to-give-to-operation-christmas-child