A shoebox, specifically the items put inside of it, can do wonders in lifting the spirits of a child who has next to nothing.
Volunteers in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows know all about shoeboxes.
In 2011 they filled 3,075 of them with small toys, hygiene items, school supplies, hard candy, personal notes, and photos.
The boxes ended up in the hands of needy children in developing countries.
This year’s the Ridge Meadows chapter of Operation Christmas Child (OCC) shoebox collection season is off to a flying start, thanks to the West Coast Auto Group Football Club.
The local soccer club donated 16 cartons full of new soccer jerseys, that will be shipped from the Calgary processing centre to kids who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to wear such apparel.
“We were flabbergasted,” OCC Ridge Meadows local coordinator Barb Gustafson said. “Their generosity was overwhelming.”
There is also a need for additional new soccer balls, which will be deflated and placed into the boxes, along with pumps, to accompany the jerseys.
“Perfect gifts for boys 10 to 14 years old,” Gustafson added.
The packing season started in October, involving thousands of individuals, families, churches, businesses, and community groups filling shoeboxes.
Each gift-filled shoebox collected in Canada will make a long journey to the outstretched hands of a needy child in Haiti, South or Central America, or West Africa.
Last year, Canadians filled 672,274 boxes.
OCC shoebox gifts are also collected in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Spain, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the United States.
Shoebox gifts are distributed in more than 100 countries, on six continents (all but Antarctica).
This year, OCC is striving towards collecting and distributing its hundred-millionth shoebox globally since the program began in 1993.
To reach that goal people in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows – and coast-to-coast – are being asked to pack shoeboxes over the next few weeks to touch the hearts of underprivileged children and improve their lives.
OCC shoeboxes are available at the Dollar Giant located inside Haney Place Mall.
Donors can also place items into plastic tupperwear containers that won’t crack.
When you fill a box, bear in mind that only hard candy such as lollipops and Werther’s are accepted because they won’t melt, and toothpaste is discouraged because hungry children had eaten the paste in past years.
Shoe boxes from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories, processed in Calgary, will be destined for Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Venezuela, Paraguay, and Equatorial Guinea.
Those who don’t have an opportunity to pack a shoe box can make a difference by digging into their pockets and donating a suggested $7, to help cover the cost of international shipping and other project-related causes.
Gustafson has seen the difference the boxes can make.
She delivered them to children with OCC in 2003 and 2004 in Nicaragua and in Bolivia in 2007.
“There are many people who apply for the trip to give out shoe boxes and some may have to wait two years before they can go,” Gustafson said. “I have been very fortunate and privileged to have gone on these trips. It’s truly a life-changing experience.”
The Canadians’ generosity didn’t go unnoticed, Gustafson said, relating one experience she had in Bolivia.
“We went only to schools, so had many opportunities to interact with the teachers and principals of schools,” she recalled.
“An interview was done with a principal of one of the schools, and he was very moved by the goodness of Canadians in sharing the boxes with the children of Bolivia, but more than that, he said how much the value of the box represents the idea that someone a world away cares enough to do something for a child a world away.”
She added, “It is so worthwhile to bring happiness, hope, and love to children who live in such needy parts of the world.”
Boxes with items suitable for boys between the ages of 10 and 14 are always needed, Gustafson said.
Boxes with items suitable for boys between the ages of 10 and 14 are always needed, Gustafson said. She related to her trip to Bolivia, where they ran short of boxes.
“The last night we were there, we had another school to go to,” she said. “We discovered we were 100 boxes short for boys 10 to 14. We had a panic attack and thought ‘What are we going to do?’ They were registered to get a box.”
The volunteers pooled their money together, visited the local bazaar, and purchased items including balls, T-Shirts, or toy cars.
“The next day, we came to the boys 10 to 14 and said, ‘We’re sorry, but we’re going to have to give you these girl boxes. But here’s a boy toy for you. That was okay with them.”
As far reaching as the OCC shoe box campaign is, it affects a small portion of children world-wide.
The 94 million shoe boxes have impacted only five per cent of the children in the world.
National shoe box collection week runs next week, Nov. 19-25.
You can drop off a shoe box filled with items, or a donation, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. each of those days at the Maple Ridge Baptist Church, 22155 Lougheed Hwy.
For more about the program, contact Gustafson at 604-467-9794.