Family proud to send gifts to those in need

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An Okotoks family has been giving back to children in need for almost a decade.

Lana Thiessen first got involved with Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child shoebox campaign before having a family of her own. She filled boxes with co-workers and sent them overseas.

“My husband and I were married and we started having children of our own, and we felt it was very important to teach our children the idea of empathy and awareness of the global community, and what we have, and the privilege we live in, and what others may not have,” said Thiessen.

They began filling shoeboxes as a family, sometimes including a family Christmas photo in the box for the child on the receiving end, whoever he or she may be.

It’s a lesson daughter Amelia has taken to heart. She thoroughly enjoys putting together shoeboxes every year, picking out gifts – usually for little girls – and imagining the children who might be opening the presents.

They’ve even held packing parties with friends, where everyone brought little toys and gifts and they filled the boxes together.

“I like that you can do it however you want, and it’s just fun to pack with friends and nice to give gifts,” said Amelia. “It’s fun to see what maybe someone will get.”

The family watched a video of children opening their shoeboxes last year, and were further inspired. One child who didn’t have shoes opened a box that had only a pair of shoes in it, and they happened to fit.

Another moment involved a pair of twins, who were the last in line. When they got to the front there was only one box left, and the parents were given the shoebox and told the girls would, unfortunately, have to share. Remarkably, there happened to be two dolls and a double set of everything else in the box.

It was moving for young Amelia.

“It’s amazing because when you pack your box, you pray for your box that it goes somewhere that will bless someone else, and those ones really did,” she said.

Sherry Kakoschke, Operation Christmas Child volunteer co-ordinator for Okotoks area, said the entire program is made up of heartwarming moments like those.

She once visited the processing centre where all the boxes collected are checked before being shipped, and was amazed by some of the stories she heard there.

“I met somebody who had been gifted a shoebox, and they immigrated to Canada and were giving back by working at the processing centre, so I thought that was so neat,” she said.

Kakoschke has been packing shoeboxes with her own family for years, and decided last year to get more involved and volunteer with Operation Christmas Child directly. She’s looking forward to seeing the number of boxes that come in from Okotoks and area.

Last year there were 2,600 boxes collected in the region, she said.

Collection days for the shoeboxes are Nov. 16 to 18 at the Okotoks Evangelical Free Church and Dit “n Dat. Shoeboxes can be accompanied with a $10 donation to Samaritan’s Purse, which helps cover the cost of processing and shipping, but it is not required.

Those interested in packing a shoebox who may not have time to do it on their own can visit www.samaritanspurse.ca. There, users can choose which items to pack and make each box unique.

“They can make it as extravagant or as economical as they want,” said Kakoschke.

Since it began in 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered 124 million shoeboxes to children around the world. In 2017, boxes were sent to Central America, Africa, Ukraine and Chile.

They are collected from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Finland, Spain, the UK, Japan, Canada and the United States, she said.

Boxes can include school supplies, non-liquid hygiene items like toothbrushes or combs, and toys or stuffed animals, she said.

There is also a list of items not permitted: food or candy; toothpaste; used items; breakable items; glass mirrors; items that could leak, melt or freeze; and items that could scare or harm a child like war-related toys such as knives or guns, she said.

“It’s very important at the processing centre that this is all checked, because once they’re going through customs in these countries, if they find one box, if they check and find just one box that has something in it that is not allowed, they turn the whole thing away,” said Kakoschke.

Shoeboxes can be picked up at Dit “n Dat or the Okotoks Evangelical Free Church, filled and returned. People are also welcome to fill their own shoebox or even a reusable plastic tub with a lid, she said.

For more information visit www.samaritanspurse.ca.

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