While some people already are counting the days to Christmas, a group of Ahwatukee and East Valley families are counting the days to Operation Christmas Child.
The local component of the annual national project by the nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse aims to send 15,000 decorated plastic shoeboxes filled with toys and necessities to needy children around the world.
“We are motivated by not only the needs of the children internationally but also the impact on individuals packing boxes,” said regional coordinator Robin Earle, of Chandler, echoing the project’s them of “reaching children and families on both sides of the box.”
Samaritan's Purse has distributed shoebox gifts to children in over 130 countries since 1993, and more than 11.2 million received one last year alone, Earle noted, adding that boxes packed by Arizonans last year were delivered to kids in the Philippines, Indonesia, Peru, Mongolia, Bangladesh and native Americans in the U.S.
The idea behind the project is simple: Pack a shoebox with school supplies, toiletries and small toys. Prohibited items include liquids, perishable food and war-related toys.
The containers can be pre-decorated photo-storage boxes or plastic boxes with tops and bottoms gift-wrapped separately so they can be checked before they are shipped. Donors also are asked to donate $7 per box to defray shipping costs.
While the big push for the operation will occur Nov. 14-21 at Grace Community Church in Tempe with labeling, packing and loading, an Ahwatukee Packing Party will be held 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 5 at Mountain View Lutheran Church, 11002 S. 48th St.
Earle said her family has been part of Operation Christmas Child for 23 years.
“Our family started packing boxes when the kids were preschoolers and now they’re getting married,” she said. “How time flies!”
The Southeast Valley team collected 25,000 boxes and got so large that it spawned a South Mountain team, consisting of Tempe, Chandler, Ahwatukee and Casa Grande.
This year, both the East Valley team—representing Mesa, Globe, Queen Creek and Gilbert—and the South Mountain team are aiming to each pack 15,000 shoeboxes.
Earle participated two years ago in a shoebox distribution in the Philippines, where local pastors invited children from surrounding communities to receive gifts.
The country had been hit with a typhoon and a powerful earthquake. “People were literally walking on rubble and were so grateful for our gifts of love,” Earle said.
Ahwatukee residents Lisa Gomez, Tina McDougall, Kerry Williams and Kris Maack are coordinating individual shoebox operations throughout the community.
Williams is a drop-off coordinator for Foothills First Baptist, 15450 S. 21st St., Ahwatukee, and Maack is coordinating the drop-off operation at Mountain View Lutheran.
Earle also is seeking volunteers during collection week at Grace Community Church. Children older than kindergarten age can participate.