POULSBO — North Kitsap has been a part of brightening the lives of millions of children around the world for 20 years through Operation Christmas Child. The gifts, such as school supplies, toys, stuffed animals, and often something the children can provide for their families — sewing kits or a few tools — are packed into shoeboxes and hand delivered.
"Even at our lowest we are way above what most of these people will ever see in their lives," said Tamara Henry, the Poulsbo coordinator for the Peninsulas area team. "[We're] also teaching the next generation to gift, and how important that is, because we have very much of a 'me' world."
In fact, every year since the recession began in 2008, Henry said they have increased in volunteers and gifts to fill a record-number of shoeboxes. This year, Henry helped coordinate the packing of 8,100 shoeboxes.
"People are looking at what's essential — we're giving school supplies and soap, not Wiis," she said.
Wally Harrison, who carves wooden toy cars (called Wally Cars) out of his Poulsbo garage, donated 701 to Operation Christmas Child. Henry said a 90-year-old woman donated 50 hand-knitted hats. A new idea this year was to line the box in fabrics and include sewing boxes for the older girls, so they could make a project right from the box.
Henry heard about Operation Christmas Child 19 years ago from her then-six-year-old daughter. The young girl read about folks handing out shoeboxes for children in war-torn Bosnia, and wanted to get involved.
The boxes have gone to over 130 countries, given to boys and girls ages 2-14.
Several cities and communities on the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas have banded together to contribute. They collect gifts year-round, and host packing parties every November.
Henry said they saw so many volunteers this year at the Nov. 17 packing party in the Poulsbo Library, they ran out of room and supplies. What the effort needs, she said, is year-round participation. The volunteer coordinators are already planning for next year, and Henry said they accept donations all year — November is a final push to pack and ship out the boxes.
The program has local teams in each country that hand out the gifts, but American volunteers can sometimes go as well. Henry, as area coordinator, was able to travel to Peru in 2010 to help hand out the gifts.
"The biggest question I heard in Peru [from the children], was why would someone fill a box for me? Why would I matter," Henry said. It reenforced her devotion to the program, "To show them that they mean something, they are important. These kids have so little hope, this is a chance for hope in their lives."
Interested folks can get started on next year's operation, and learn more about the program at a celebration event Feb. 16, 1 p.m., at St. Charles Church, 20295 Little Valley Road, Poulsbo. Henry said they'll have the numbers on where the boxes went and hear stories about the children that received them.
For more information, email Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.samaritanspurse.org.