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Churches in Gresham, Estacada and Sandy participate in annual Operation Christmas Child program

COURTESY PHOTO: SAMARITANS PURSE - More than 2.7 million children in Colombia have received Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes since Samaritans Purse began delivering gifts there in 2003.

Last year, volunteers with Operation Christmas Child wondered how many children their annual program would be able to reach in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We didn't know what to expect," said Linda Salmon, area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child's Portland Metro East Area Team. "Without churches gathering, we were concerned. We thought maybe we'd get 5,000."

However, while many programs saw reductions because of the pandemic, the area collected 14,477 shoeboxes filled with items for children in 2020 — 150 more than the previous year.COURTESY PHOTO: SAMARITANS PURSE - A child in Ecuador shows off an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift.

Operation Christmas Child, organized by Samaritan's Purse and facilitated locally by churches in Gresham, Sandy and Estacada, connects children around the world with shoeboxes filled with school supplies, hygiene items, toys and information about the story of Jesus.

National Collection Week for the project is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 15, through Monday, Nov. 22. Locally, Shoeboxes can be dropped off at Mountainview Christian Church, 1890 N.E. Cleveland Ave., Gresham; Sandy Assembly of God, 39800 Highway 26, Sandy; and Clackamas Valley Baptist Church, 29275 S.E. Eagle Creek Road, Estacada.

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child delivered more than 188 million shoebox gifts to children in more than 170 countries and territories. This year, project leaders hope to collect enough shoebox gifts for 9.7 million children.

Across the world, there are 4,000 drop off locations, and almost 575,000 volunteers are involved with the projects. Shoebox gifts are collected in Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States.

"It's so simple to do, and you can have such a great impact," said Pam Ellis, a volunteer at Clackamas Valley Baptist Church.

Clackamas Valley Baptist Church has been involved with the program for 25 years and became a drop off site two decades ago. When they first started, the closest drop off site was in Yelm, Wash.

"Being in a remote area, we want to encourage people to pack a shoebox and not have to go so far," Ellis said.

COURTESY PHOTO: SAMARITANS PURSE - More than 12.5 million children in Mexico have received a shoebox gift

Terri Johnson is an area logistics coordinator and manages the donation site at Mountainview Christian Church, which also acts as a central drop off location for other area churches to deliver their items. She's been involved with the program for 21 years and brought the program to Mountainview when she began attending church there 11 years ago.

"You develop relationships with people doing shoebox ministry," she said, adding that she knows one family who has been packing shoeboxes for 20 years. When they started, the three daughters were young, and now they're the ones who deliver the shoeboxes themselves. "I look forward to seeing everyone during collection week."

Salmon appreciates the collaboration that the project facilitates.

"When we have many hands to do it it's almost like a little army of ants across the nation. It's so motivating to see people working together," she said.

Shoeboxes are typically packed with one larger toy, several smaller toys, personal care items, school supplies and a personal note to the recipient. Participants are asked not to include candy, toothpaste, gum, used or damaged items, war-related items, food, seeds, drinks mixes, liquids or lotions, medications or vitamins, breakable items or aerosol cans.

For those who are unable to visit one of the drop off centers, Samaritan's Purse also has an option for building a shoebox online.

Over the years, those involved with Operation Christmas Child have been able to meet shoebox recipients from around the world.

At Mountainview, one former shoebox recipient from Russia had moved to the area and was a member of the church's worship team.

"It's amazing how you take a shoebox, pack it, and send it off, and you have no idea what it will do and how it will impact a child," Johnson said.

COURTESY PHOTO: SAMARITANS PURSE - This girl is one of millions of children in the Dominican Republic to receive an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift since Samaritans Purse began delivering gifts there in 2000.

In Estacada, a former shoebox recipient from Ukraine visited Clackamas Valley Baptist Church's vacation bible school this summer.

"Meeting them as adults is really cool," Ellis said. "It's an inspiration to put even more effort into it."

"It's amazing to meet a recipient as an adult," Salmon added. "It puts the reality together right in front of you. When you meet someone that got a shoebox, you can feel what it was like for them to get it, and walk in their shoes."

Headquartered in North Carolina, Samaritan's Purse is a nondenominational Christian organization founded in 1970. The group's goals include providing spiritual and physical aid to victims of war, natural disasters, disease, famine, poverty and persecution. There are field offices in 17 countries and ministry partners in more than 100 countries. For more information, visit samaritanspurse.org.


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