As colorful bins of fresh crayons, markers, notebooks and other school supplies lined aisles in stores, some Juneau residents were picking up a few extras to send to those less fortunate.
Southeast Alaska has been participating in Operation Christmas Child, organized by the Samaritan’s Purse, for 10 years and for the past several years has collected more than 2,000 boxes annually.
These boxes contain toys for several age ranges, school supplies, hard candies and personal hygiene products.
Tom Brice, area coordinator, has been involved with the organization for about five years.
“Most of the people that are packing boxes do it with their children,” Brice said. “As they’re getting their kids ready for school they put extra school supplies in the boxes. It’s a good way to teach our children about giving and discuss the situations that some children are in abroad. I’ve done that with my kids. This is the time of year as tourist season is starting to close down, T-shirt shops and gift shops are looking to liquidate inventory, these are great items to put in the boxes as well as school supplies.”
Brice said the program is intended to “spread a little bit of cheer and hope in third world nations to kids who otherwise just might not ever receive anything. It’s an effort to give kids in third world nations a little gift, a little something that lets them know people think about them and are concerned about them.”
Brice said the program started in England in 1993, where people sent items to orphans in Romania. From there it has spread internationally with boxes reaching 8.5 million children a year. Since the program started, 86 million children have received the boxes in 130 countries.
“One of the nice things about the project is that it’s very sensitive to the local situations in that this isn’t a program where you have a bunch of missionaries just going out passing out candy and toys and then leaving,” Brice said. “These boxes are distributed in conjunction with local organizations and local pastors and supported by the country in which they’re going. There are some sensitive areas that boxes have gone to.”
Since the organization is Christian-based, the boxes are sent with the message of Christ’s birth — the Christmas story — in the appropriate language.
“This isn’t just folks in America saying here have boxes,” Brice said. “These are tools for local organizations to use to help spread a little bit of hope and cheer to kids in third world nations. ... There is a level of separation between the story and the box. Depending on the circumstance they’ll be given at different times, the conversation or presentation of the story will be done in a separate area. And ultimately what are the boxes used for depends upon what’s in the box.”
The boxes are packed according to gender and age group. Toys shouldn’t have anything to do with war or violence, nor contain perishable food items or liquids. Adding school supplies is one of the more important elements of the boxes.
“A child’s ability to go to school sometimes is based upon the ability to provide their own supplies,” Brice said. “Children that receive the crayons, the notebooks and those types of gifts end up being able to take them to school and use them there.”
Brice would like to see Southeast increase the number of boxes it sends each year. Typically they collect 2,100-2,200 boxes, but this year he hopes for 2,300.
Boxes will be collected during National Collection Week from Nov. 14-21.
“That’s where churches and organizations throughout the nation will be gathering these boxes up and getting them to distribution centers for shipment overseas,” Brice said.
The local collection point in Juneau will be Chapel by the Lake Presbyterian Church, 11024 Auke Lake Way, between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Other collection points will be available throughout Southeast. Alaska Marine Lines has volunteered for years to transport those boxes from other communities to a consolidated location and moving them to Seattle.
“I would just encourage people as they’re getting things ready for their kids back to school efforts, that they pick up a couple extra packs of paper, pens, school supplies and think about sending a box to kids in the third world, developing nations that might need a little something,” Brice said.
For more information on how to pack a box and for more information on the program, visit www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/OCC.
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.