KENAI (AP) -- 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.''
She said Samaritan's Purse in the Lower 48 is collecting for 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.
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.
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 items. Higginbotham suggested flashlights, socks and harmonicas.
''They love harmonicas,'' she said.
Many donors include a personal letter and family photos.
Include extra batteries for any battery-powered gifts, since the recipient may not be able to buy batteries.
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.
More information is available by calling Samaritan's Purse at (800) 353-5949 or on the Net at www.samaritanspurse.org.
(Distributed by The Associated Press)
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