Operation Christmas Child under way

Posted: Sunday, September 21, 2003

The presents that residents of Alaska collect for Russian children this fall in Operation Christmas Child may not reach their intended receivers until next summer.

But when they get to the Russian province of Chukotka, just across the Bering Sea from Alaska, they will be appreciated, said Justine Emerson, Southeast coordinator of the 10-year-old gift drive.

Emerson traveled to Chukotka in August to help distribute the more than 1,900 boxes of gifts Juneau residents donated to Operation Christmas Child last year.

"There's no industry there," Emerson said. "Once communism fell and they pulled out the subsidies, there's just nothing there."

The drive for donations for Operation Christmas Child in Juneau officially starts Monday, when representatives of different local groups will be given information about what and what not to put in the boxes, where to drop them off and when.

Many local church groups as well as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts will assemble boxes, said Debra Gerrish, a volunteer with the drive.

"And then we often have individual families, they don't belong to a church and they just decide they want to do it," she said.

Boxes will be collected the week of Oct. 26 at Chapel by the Lake. From Juneau they will travel to Soldotna, where they will be sorted and gathered with other boxes before heading to Seattle and then to Russia.

Alaska Marine Lines and Lynden Transport donate much of the transportation services.

Boxes should be packed for a boy or girl of a specific age, Emerson said. Food and war-themed toys should not be given.

School supplies, such as markers, crayons and colored pencils, hair clips for girls and toys such as yo-yos and balls make good gifts, Emerson said. Toothbrushes, toothpaste and other personal hygiene supplies are valued, too.

Until the end of the month, the end-of-season sales at downtown stores will be a great place for people to buy Alaska trinkets and toys for the boxes, Emerson said.

Just as important as the gifts, though, are photos and letters included in the boxes.

"Kids sometimes cry if they don't get them," said Emerson of the children in orphanages who receive the boxes. "The kids will keep the pictures in their cubby where they have their own space. They don't have anybody, so it's important to them."

The boxes this year were distributed to orphanages, hospitals and families in Anadyr, the capital of Chukotka. Next year, government officials in the province hope to distribute the gifts to families in villages away from the capital.

"They have nothing out in the villages, from what I understand," Emerson said.

To learn more about Operation Christmas Child, which is run by the nondenominational evangelical Christian organization Samaritan's Purse, visit www.samaritanspurse.org, or pick up a brochure at Hearthside Books, Udder Culture in the Mendenhall Mall, and Northern Echoes Bible Shoppe in the Airport Shopping Center.

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