Christmas came early for a group of Stettlerites this year — at least, the shopping and wrapping parts of it.
A crew of volunteers gathered at St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church on the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 9, to pack shoeboxes full of gifts to be shipped to needy children overseas as part of the Operation Christmas Child program operated by Samaritan’s Purse.
Long tables were covered with gifts, including school and art supplies, books, dolls, stuffed animals, hard candy, small sports equipment, toiletries and clothing.
Co-ordinator Deborah Jackson said this was the second year she has organized a packing party, where parents, grandparents and kids brought their lunches with them and then set to work, packing shoeboxes.
“It’ll go until all the boxes are packed — until we run out of boxes or we run out of items,” she said.
In 2012, the Lutheran Church filled 47 shoeboxes with gifts; last year they increased that number to 84 boxes.
“We collect items for the shoeboxes all year long,” said Jackson, explaining that donors can purchase items in bulk when they are on sale. “I just get donations all through the year.”
This year she also reached out to the community on Facebook, and as a result, for the first time people from outside the church joined the packing party.
Jackson said that it’s an easy way to share the joy of Christmas with those less fortunate, considering the material wealth enjoyed by many people in the West.
“We have so much here, it’s so simple to do,” she said. “The Lord has placed this upon my heart.”
Jackson said she has welcomed contributions from several local businesses, including Superfluity Thrift Store and Pfeiffer House of Music, through which she has received small musical instruments like harmonicas, recorders, maracas and ocarinas.
The thrift store has donated used Barbie dolls, which are cleaned thoroughly and dressed with new outfits made by Margaret Lewis.
Another contributor, Jeanne May Dyck, donated pencil cases that she’d sewn together, complete with zipper fasteners.
Jackson said she will gladly accept more handmade items, like knitting or woodworking.
Gifts are packed into red-and-green shoeboxes that are designated for either boys or girls. 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 packed at the Lutheran Church will be placed in the sanctuary for next Sunday and then delivered to Stettler Alliance Church, which is sending out a large shipment of shoeboxes from the area later in November.
Boxes are inspected at area packing centres before going to their final destinations. After the boxes are distributed to children, they’re also offered a book called “The Greatest Gift,” telling the story of Jesus.
According to the Samaritan’s Purse website, local churches and ministry groups are also equipped with a 12-part Bible study course that is made available to interested children.
“There are many children that give their hearts to Jesus,” said Jackson. “The shoeboxes, I think, speak to their hearts . . . That’s the most important, that they know the Lord.”
For more information on Operation Christmas Child, visit www.samaritanspurse.ca/operationchristmaschild.