Operation Christmas Child ready for another year

POULSBO — Imagine for a moment receiving the one and only gift you will ever receive in your lifetime.

Now, imagine turning around and giving part of it back.

That’s exactly what Poulsbo resident Tracy Wall experienced last year as a volunteer in Panama for Operation Christmas Child. The program, through Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse, ships shoeboxes of gifts to children in impoverished countries each holiday season.

Wall said the most touching part of actually delivering the boxes to the children was their reaction.

“One of the first things the kids would do is try to find something to give back to us,” she recalled. “They have never and probably never will again receive a gift and the first thing they think of is to give back. I just sat there with tears in my eyes as these kids tried to find things in their boxes for us.”

It’s these kinds of stories that are shared over and over again that keep the Operation Christmas Child cause alive in North Kitsap. Once again, the call is going out for the annual shoebox drive. Volunteers hosted by Christ Memorial Church will be taking donations Nov. 15-22.

The concept is simple. Community members are invited to fill an ordinary shoebox with toys, art supplies, hard candies and other surprises for a boy or girl in another country. Shoebox packing directions, printable boy or girl labels and other information on what is and is not allowed are included on the Samaritan’s Purse Web site.

Last year, 6.6 million shoeboxes were donated to Operation Christmas Child nation wide and were distributed to children in 95 war-torn or impoverished countries. The North Kitsap drive, hosted by Christ Memorial Church and run by a variety of local churches, last year contributed 4,703 of those. Wall, area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, said this year’s goal is 6,000 shoeboxes donated by the North Kitsap community.

“We have so much here and they have nothing,” Wall commented of the countries where children receive the shoeboxes. “If you think about how it absolutely changes a child’s world view, I guess it’s something I really feel passionate about. You can send hope and you can change a life.”

Throughout the several years that the North Kitsap community has held an Operation Christmas Child drive, the cause has really taken a foothold. Between 2002 and 2003, donations jumped by about 1,200. Many businesses rally to put together shoeboxes as a holiday project but Wall said some of the bigger supporters have become schools like Christ the King Academy and King’s West and young people’s organizations like 4-H and Boy and Girl Scout troops. Many of the volunteers who man the shoebox donation dates are also area youths.

“It’s very exciting to see the young people who get it and really work to make a difference,” Wall commented. “I think so many kids don’t think they can make a difference, but they can make a difference — a tremendous difference.”

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