Last year 11 million children received a shoebox from Operation Christmas Child, with 5,228 boxes going out from North Platte’s Bethel Evangelical Free Church collection center alone.
National Collection Week for the shoeboxes is Nov. 12-19.
Since 1970, Operation Christmas Child has been one of the ministry projects directed by Samaritan’s Purse. Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world.
“Bethel is a collection center where we will have 11 drop-off communities bring their boxes,” said Val Hiser, coordinator.
Hiser has been involved with the project for 18 years.
“It is a way to say Merry Christmas in a language we don’t speak,” Hiser said. “The first shipment of boxes went to Bosnia during the war over there in 1993.”
She said the operation has grown and delivers to 100 countries today.
“A lot go by ship, airplane, and once they get to the countries, they could go on the backs of donkeys or by boat,” Hiser said. “To make this all happen, there are 260,000 volunteers overseas and 9,000 volunteers in the U.S. serve year-round.”
Hiser said the United States is the largest donor of shoeboxes, but many are sent from Canada, Britain and Australia as well.
“Every box represents a child,” Hiser said. “God works miracles and we are able to provide shoes or a coat to keep children from freezing to death.”
Boxes are packed with items grouped by ages from 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14, Hiser said.
“They will be freighted by truck to Denver, from there will be processed and sent to South America, Guatemala, Mexico and more,” Hiser said. “(The organization) will pack the boxes to go to a certain location.”
She said if there is cold-weather clothing — hats, gloves, coats — the boxes will be routed to the appropriate country.
“They ask for donors to pack a ‘wow’ item, such as a children’s toy,” Hiser said. “Also they ask for hygiene items and school supplies. Some children in those countries can’t go to school unless they have a pencil and paper.”
The cost is $9 to ship one box.
The samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child website contains information on how and what to pack in a shoebox.
“People can register online and if they just want to donate money to cover the freight costs, they can do that as well,” Hiser said.
She said donors can track their particular box online as well.
Collection times at Bethel E-Free, 2700 W. Philip Ave., are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday and Sunday.
Hiser may be reached by phone at 308-530-6904 or 308-532-8544.