Flashlights, candy canes and T-shirts are no great shakes to the wealthy children of the United States.
However, they may be exotic treasures to impoverished children in the Russian Far East. And that is the destination for Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes collected by area organizers for an international Christian relief and evangelistic group.
"We're hoping to get about 5,000 Christmas boxes from Kenai this year to send to Russia," said Carolyn Higginbotham, office manager for Samaritan's Purse in Soldotna. "These gifts go to people who have absolutely nothing. Ours go to Russia. Samaritan's Purse in the Lower 48 is collecting for other countries. We'll do about 70 countries this year."
Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, heads Boone, N.C.-based Samaritan's Purse. Last year, the group's Operation Christmas Child sent 1.8 million shoe boxes filled with toys donated from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, Austria and Switzerland.
About 400,000 shoe boxes went to Kosovo, where Samaritan's Purse has helped thousands of returning refugees with housing, food and medical services. Another 350,000 went to Yugoslavia and its former provinces of Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia.
More than 270,000 went to Honduras, where Samaritan's Purse has built more than 3,500 houses for victims of Hurricane Mitch. More shoe boxes went to children living in garbage dumps in Nicaragua and East Timor and to survivors of the earthquake in Turkey.
"The emphasis is on kids helping kids," Graham said in a flier.
Adults also can give. The boxes can be larger than a shoe box, Higginbotham said, but they should be no larger than a boot box, since when the presents are given, the boxes should all be about the same size.
Local collection centers for this year's boxes are the Samaritan's Purse office in the blue hangar at the Soldotna airport, Kenai Chrysler Center in Kenai and Beemun's in Soldotna. Higginbotham said the Redoubt Homemakers and many area churches and Christian schools are collecting shoe boxes. Samaritan's Purse manned a collection site at Kmart in Kenai on Saturday, and will be there again this Saturday from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. The deadline to donate is Nov. 17.
Samaritan's Purse designates boxes for children aged 2 to 4, 5 to 9 and 10 to 14. With the boxes, it distributes Christian literature in children's own languages.
"Operation Christmas Child seeks to make the lives of children around the world a little bit brighter through a simple personalized gift and to impact their lives through the greatest gift of all -- the love of Jesus Christ," a flier states.
To donate a shoe box, select an age category and decide whether the box will go to a boy or a girl. Then pick appropriate gifts. Include a check for $5 in each shoe box to help pay transportation and other expenses.
Small toys, stuffed animals, balls, games, candy, T-shirts, coloring books and personal hygienic supplies such as toothpaste and toothbrushes are popular shoe box items. Higginbotham suggested flashlights, socks and harmonicas.
"They love harmonica's," she said.
Many donors include a personal letter and family photos.
"Thousands of children who have received a shoe box gift have said thank you by writing back to children in the United States, and pen-pal relationships have formed," the flier said. "Some children even have the opportunity to meet their long-distant friends."
Include extra batteries for any battery-powered gifts, since the recipient may not be able to buy batteries. Do not send items that could break, melt or spill.
Shoe boxes can be wrapped, but the lids must be wrapped separately from the boxes. Fill the box, put the check inside and secure the lid with a rubber band.
Samaritan's Purse will not accept war toys such as plastic soldiers, tanks, planes, guns or knives. Many of the children who receive shoe box gifts live under oppressive regimes or have been through wars.
In addition, Higginbotham said, Samaritan's Purse works year-round gaining permission to deliver gifts overseas and wants no gifts that might jeopardize future work.
Samaritan's Purse ships the boxes to needy nations by truck, train, plane and boat. Once they reach the destination countries, local churches and Christian ministries distribute them.
For more information, call Higginbotham at 260-1946 or Samaritan's Purse at (800) 353-5949 or visit www.samaritanspurse.org on the Internet.
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