Shoe boxes are small, but when filled with lovingly selected gifts, they bring joy a hundred times its size to orphans and other children in Siberia.
Students in Monica Heath's third-grade class at Mountain View Elementary School in Kenai filled a number of shoe boxes with joy recently, all of them destined for Provideniya, Russia. The class decided to put together the gift boxes at the urging of a student.
Mary Jane Mills, who works for Samaritan's Purse, an international relief organization, helped Heath's class put together the boxes of gifts.
Samaritan's Purse, headquartered in Boone, N.C., has an office at the Soldotna Municipal Airport, where relief flights aboard its airplanes are launched year-round. During the summer, Samaritan's Purse flies food and other goods to Russia. In the winter, it conducts Operation Christmas Child, sending gifts for children.
The Alaska region of Samaritan's Purse covers Far East Russia and sends gifts to Petropavlovsk, Vladivostok, Provideniya and the villages surrounding them.
Mills showed Heath's students a slide show of last year's operation and told them who their gifts will go to.
"Boys as young as 8 years old ended up on the street after the orphanages shut down," she said. "So they built boys prisons for them to go to."
Some lucky little girl in Provedeniya will receive this box of goodies.
Photo by JAY BARRET
Shoe boxes also will go to children living in Provideniya and five villages surrounding it.
"The kids don't know what to do with all the stuff in the boxes," Mills said. "They share everything with each other."
The boxes -- up to 10,000 from across Alaska -- are scheduled to arrive across the International Date Line around the time of Russian Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7. The boxes to all the communities except Provideniya will be shipped by barge, the rest by small aircraft from Soldotna, via Nome.
Mills plans on videotaping Provideniya children opening the boxes from Heath's class and bringing it back for the students to watch.
The boxes hold candy, crayons, colored pens and stationary, balloons, plush toys, Hot Wheels toy cars, combs and brushes, barrettes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, washcloths and other personal hygiene items.
Other items acceptable for inclusion would be flashlights and batteries, ball caps, socks, T-shirts, toy jewelry, solar calculators, watches and small picture books.
Gifts not allowed include any war-related items, such as toy guns and knives and toy soldiers. Also not suggested are perishable food, liquids such as shampoo or lotion and anything breakable.
The items were bought by students' parents.
"We sent a letter home with the students and said it was in the spirit of Thanksgiving," Heath said.
Third-grader Ella Stephens writes a letter to a girl in Russia who will receive the shoe box of goodies she and her classmates put together.
Photo by JAY BARRET
This is the first year her class is doing the project.
"It was pretty much Mary Pat's idea," Heath said. Mary Pat Mills is daughter of Mary Jane Mills. "And it sounded pretty good to me."
Heath's students broke up into boy and girl groups and assembled shoe boxes for a child of their same gender.
Mills and others with Samaritan's Purse will sort all the shoe boxes from around the state at its Soldotna airport hangar.
For more information on Operation Christmas Child, call 260-1946.
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