This year's Operation Christmas Child was a huge success.
Last year, Juneau residents filled 576 shoe boxes with Christmas gifts for children 2 to 14 years old living in distressed countries. This year, said one of the coordinators, Nancy Eiler, more than 1,200 boxes were stuffed with presents.
"My family of four put together one box, so probably several thousand people in Juneau were involved," Eiler said. "It wasn't just church groups; it was co-workers of people doing boxes, community groups. All were very kind."
Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan's Purse, a Christian international relief and evangelical organization founded by Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham. Samaritan's Purse operates in 90 countries, reaching even nomadic Bedouins.
This year's Juneau boxes went to kids in the Russian Far East.
"They go to kids in orphanages and group homes. They're distributed through churches and in hospitals, in refugee relief camps, areas of natural disasters and poverty situations," said coordinator Justine Emerson. Some of the recipients are children who have been abandoned by their families because they have AIDS.
Last year in Mexico, the holidays came via Operation Christmas Child to kids living in slums, a city dump and a prison.
Items for boxes included toys, dolls, toothbrushes, toothpaste, stickers, harmonicas, personal letters, school supplies, tiny cars, Alaska baseball caps and T-shirts. Gospel booklets are added to the boxes.
"Each box was unique," Emerson said. "Our daughter, Mackenzie Slater, had the guests at her birthday party bring items to pack OCC boxes instead of presents for her. Bethel Christian Center and Juneau Christian School packed 245 boxes altogether. It was very moving to have all the children carry an item in during the Sunday morning service and pile them in the front of the church. Then a 9-year-old girl, recently back from visiting relatives in India, prayed over them."
The effort to fill twice as many boxes as last year was designated the "Love in Action" aspect of Celebration 2000, Juneau's recent Billy Graham Evangelistic Association crusade.
Hudson Shoes, the Footlocker and Payless Shoes donated the empty boxes. Shipping of the filled boxes to Anchorage for transport to their final destinations was donated by Lynden Transport and Alaska Airlines.
Because of a misunderstanding over the Oct. 22 deadline, about 250 of the boxes showed up late at Chapel by the Lake. "Then the Coast Guard, bless their hearts, helped us with shipping" to Anchorage, Eiler said.
Last year, more than 3.1 million shoe boxes collected in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia were delivered to 65 countries on five continents. They went to places such as Armenia, Ghana, Thailand, East Timor, Guatemala and Jamaica. About 400,000 boxes went to Kosovo alone including one filled by Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
In 1999, Samaritan's Purse helped to build new homes for Hondurans after Hurricane Mitch, repaired and improved hospitals in Kosovo, and provided wood-burning stoves throughout the former provinces of Yugoslavia and Albania.
Donations to Samaritan's Purse may be mailed to P.O. Box 3000, Boone, N.C. 28607-3000. The OCC Web site is www.samaritanspurse.org.