What can fit inside a shoe box? More than you might think, and it's often enough to make a child happy, according to folks involved with Operation Christmas Child.
The worldwide children's project of Samaritan's Purse sends millions of gift-filled shoe boxes to needy children in 100 countries on six continents.
Grace Bible Church in is a collection site for the program and church members hope to send 20,000 shoe boxes this year, an increase of 3,000 from last year.
(Mirror photo byGary M. Baranec)Cassidie, 9, Noah, 7, and Elijah, 3, Best of Altoona pack a shoe box with gifts for Grace Bible Church to send to Operation Christmas Child.
Churches from Bedford, Blair, Fayette and Huntingdon counties collect items and drop them at Grace Bible Church.
"We're hoping with more recognition we'll attract more people," said Shannon Krater, area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child.
Church members are striving to pack 11,000 boxes themselves, with the hopes that other churches, civic groups and community members will donate the remaining 9,000 boxes.
Grace Bible began participating in Operation Christmas Child about 13 years ago and interest in the program has grown through the years.
"A lot of people do it because they get to contribute and bring joy to the life of a child. It's also a great way for kids to learn to think of somebody besides themselves," Krater said.
Last year a family donated 200 boxes. Other people donated one box or a few items to include in the boxes.
Items needed for the boxes include personal hygiene items, toys, school supplies, candy, items of clothing like hats, socks or flip flops. Anything that can break, leak or melt cannot be included in the boxes, so chocolate, shampoo and liquid soaps are not ideal. Bars of soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, jump ropes, crayons, balls, toy cars and dolls are great items, Krater said.
"We always try to put a stuffed animal in every box," Krater said. "Most of these kids receiving these shoe boxes have never received a gift of any kind at all. A lot of them have not felt loved."
Along with the gift-filled shoe boxes, at least 200 pairs of shoes were donated for this year's project.
Nancicarol Troiano, a member of Grace Bible Church, helps with Operation Christmas Child and was hoping to find empty shoe boxes for the project. Instead, she found a woman who was willing to donate new shoes.
"Our church is collecting shoe boxes but this lady had actual shoes. I was all excited," Troiano said.
The donor, Catherine Shortencarrier of Northern Cambria, owns Paul's Shoe Store in Northern Cambria. She had recently moved to a smaller location and was looking to get rid of some of her old inventory.
"Rather than just keep it lying there, I said I'd like to help the needy people," she said.
Shortencarrier started working at Paul's Shoe Store in 1944 when she was 13 years old. She bought the store in 1991, and in recent years her health declined, causing her to downsize.
"It's something I always wanted to do, was pass along my good fortune to others," Shortencarrier said.
Not everyone can donate 200 pairs of shoes, but every donation counts, Krater said.
"We meet some physical needs, as well as spiritual needs," Krater said.
Anyone interested in donating shoe boxes or items for the boxes can drop off supplies at Grace Bible Church from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
National collection week is Nov. 14 to 21 and on Nov. 14 Grace Bible Church will be packing boxes at 6 p.m. at the church.
Anyone is welcome to help.
Operation Christmas Child started in 1993 with 28,000 shoe boxes. Since then, Samaritan's Purse, headquartered in North Carolina, has collected and delivered more than 86 million shoe boxes to 130 countries. Children who experienced the earthquake and aftermath of cholera in Haiti in 2010 and the earthquake in China in 2008 and 2009 were recipients of shoe box gifts.
For more information visit www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/OCC.