Elementary and middle school students from Stettler picked out some fine Christmas presents last week — but not for themselves, or anybody they know.
They were filling shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, a program operated through Samaritan’s Purse to distribute gifts to needy children overseas.
The Stettler Elementary School gym floor was lined with small presents — toys, clothes, school supplies, small sports equipment and toiletries — on Wednesday, Nov. 19.
The elementary students themselves had brought in these gifts over the past few weeks, and now they were tasked with packing them into shoeboxes, with the help of the middle schoolers.
The process was surprisingly smooth, given that around 550 kids were involved, packing a total of 225 shoeboxes in under 45 minutes.
Parent volunteer and campaign co-ordinator Christy Brennan said this is the third year the entire school has packed gifts for Operation Christmas Child, although some teachers had run the program with their students prior to that.
“It’s just so important for the kids to be aware of the number of children out there that aren’t opening presents, around the world,” said Brennan, “and to let them know how good it feels to give.”
Gifts are packed into red-and-green shoeboxes that are designated for either boys or girls of varying age groups.
Boxes from western Canada are headed to several destinations this year, including Haiti, Guatemala, Venezuela, Uruguay, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea.
The boxes were delivered to Stettler Alliance Church, where on Sunday they were loaded into a trailer and taken to the distribution centre in Red Deer.
Students at William E. Hay Composite High School also packed shoeboxes this year, as they have for the last two decades. Groups at several area churches also took part; for instance, a packing party at St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church produced a total of 186 shoeboxes.
Brennan reported this week that a total of 1,712 shoeboxes were shipped out from Stettler and district this year, up from 1,565 last year.
For info on Operation Christmas Child, visit www.samaritanspurse.ca/operationchristmaschild.