MANKATO — Carolyn Vance has donated shoe boxes full of gifts to Operation Christmas Child before.
One year, she said, she tracked a box that was shipped to a child in the Caribbean. Another one went to a needy child in Africa.
But that’s only part of the fun she and her son, Patrick, experience while taking part in Operation Christmas Child, which involves collecting shoe boxes of gifts for children worldwide during National Collection Week, which began Monday. Vance and fellow volunteer Howard Friesen — who have volunteered at the collection center at Hilltop United Methodist Church the past several years — said much of the fun comes from receiving and packing up gifts.
“For me, it’s just about working with people and knowing you’re helping kids in other countries,” Friesen said, adding that Hilltop United got awfully busy last year when 4,200 boxes were collected.
“It was fun,” Vance said. “Tables were stacked five high with shoe boxes.”
Hilltop United Methodist Church is one of several area churches that collect items for Operation Christmas Child every year, some of which will bring their boxes to Hilltop United on Sunday to be driven to the Twin Cities.
Relay centers in Cleveland, Le Sueur, Blue Earth and Waseca also will bring their collected boxes to Hilltop at the end of collection week.
Organizer Paulette Adams said the church has been a collection site for the past decade.
People can either pack a shoe box themselves and drop it off at the church, or they can donate items small enough to fit inside a shoe box. Either volunteers at the church or the processing center in the Twin Cities will gladly pack them, Adams said.
Shoe box items are needed for both boys and girls in age groups 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14. Adams said useful items include school supplies; hygiene items, such as toothbrushes and bar soap; age-appropriate toys; and clothing.
Operation Christmas Child does not take food items, except for individually wrapped candies, such as suckers and Skittles, for example. Chocolate melts, so it’s not accepted. Also, nothing liquid, such as shampoo, bubbles, snowglobes or pop.
No war-related toys, such as G.I. Joes, should be donated.
“Many of these kids are from places that have seen war for real,” Adams said.
Church volunteers will collect items all week, pack shoe boxes into cartons and load them into a truck to be driven to the processing center in the Twin Cities.
Donors can “follow” their shoe boxes to the country in which their gift will be hand-delivered to a child in need with a $7 shipping donation. (To register your shoe box gift, use the “Follow Your Box” form at www.SamaritansPurse.org/OCC.) They may also include a letter in their donated box; Adams said donors sometimes receive letters back.
Operation Christmas Child sends the boxes to 130 different countries. The goal this year is to deliver the gifts to 9.1 million children, which will push the organization over the edge of delivering boxes to more than 100 million children since the program began in 1993.
Hilltop United hopes to surpass the 4,200 boxes it collected last year.
“We’ll be happy with whatever we receive,” Adams said. “We would certainly like to increase that number, but it’s up to the individual donations.”
Operation Christmas Child is a project of international Christian relief and evangelism organization Samaritan’s Purse. It’s the largest Christmas project of its kind in the world.