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Shoe boxes help underprivileged children celebrate Christmas


Submitted Photo

Individuals and Petersburg churches worked together to ship 178 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to be distributed throughout the world by Samaritan's Purse. Members of First Baptist Church packed 62 boxes with toys, hygiene products and many other items. From left standing: Kandi Woodworth, Mike Woodworth, Butch Young, Alice Young, Zac Christensen, Carol Schaake, Shannon Midkiff, Marvetta Ronimous, Mike Cottrell. Seated from left: Cheyenne Steele, Helen Ronimous, Shirley Hicks, Kaitlyn Hicks.

The president of the Ministerial Association Bob Carter, is also the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, and he oversees the Samaritan's Purse local Operation Christmas Child program. The annual program brings local churches and community members together to fill up shoe boxes with meaningful gifts for underprivileged children living in poverty.

"It's been picking up every year, and the folks in town are very enthusiastic about these boxes," Carter says. "We have some people that go downtown and instead of buying a shoe box, they actually buy a boot box so they can stuff more stuff in them."

This year, 178 boxes full of gifts for children were collected by eight churches in town to be sent overseas. The boxes are arranged by age groups ranging from 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14 years old, and can include store bought or handmade objects. Anyone wanting to donate can receive a list of suggested potential items, and some items that are strictly prohibited.

"They don't want anything that's perishable, they don't want anything that a child's family might have to pay a tariff on," Carter says. "And they don't want any war toys; no toy guns or little squirt guns or anything that might actually get a child killed."

The boxes are even tracked by barcodes, so that people who donate know where their boxes final destination is. Last year, most of the boxes from Petersburg went to the Philippines, according to Carter.

He says it's a simple shoe box, with simple things going to a child in a poor village with little or no personal possessions.

"Kids in America get inundated at Christmas time with all these toys, but for kids overseas, just a simple toy means the world to them," Carter says. "With this simple shoe box gift, you've added a bright spot to a child's life that normally wouldn't receive such a blessing. It's just a wonderful thing."

Carter and a couple youth group volunteers drive to the local churches and collect the boxes in the local Search and Rescue truck. With so many packages collected by churches, many hands make light work.

Carter says the Petersburg deadline for donating the boxes is two weeks ahead of the national deadline, because it takes longer to ship the items. Thankfully, Alaska Marine Lines donates free shipping for the collected boxes from Petersburg to Juneau. The cargo is then barged to Anchorage before leaving the country.

"It just makes you feel good knowing you're making a difference in the world," he says.

Samaritan's Purse offers to supply people with shoe boxes, and the First Baptist Church in town actually orders the boxes from the organization to keep on hand. The Baptist Church takes this mission seriously and they are always enthusiastic about making sure as many boxes make it overseas as possible. This year, the church collected 62 boxes, making them the top contributor among the eight Petersburg churches that participated in the charitable event.

The Baptist Church is strongly supported by church member Mike Cottrell who's been involved with organizing Operation Christmas Child for at least five years. Cottrell says he helps organize efforts to collect supplies all year, and then his church has a packing party to fill shoe boxes. This year, the church had 12 people show up to help.

Church members will shop at dollar stores while on vacation, and some also try to buy things in bulk like pens, notebooks or small stuffed animals. Many of the boxes this year even had jump ropes and inflatable soccer balls. Other important items included hygiene items like bars of soap, wash clothes and toothbrushes.

"We try to give them things they can keep using, not just disposable things," Cottrell says. "Some of the testimonies have been that the boxes have come just in time for school, when the kids needed supplies."

The program receives aid because it's part of Samaritan's Purse mission, and that helps gather a large number of boxes each year, resulting in decreased shipping rates to around $7 per box. That's a great deal cheaper than shipping a single box from Petersburg to a country like Sudan.

"If you tried to ship something to those third world countries it would be $350 to ship a shoe box," Cottrell says.

Patti Steele and her daughter, Cheyenne, are members of the Baptist Church and make two boxes every year. They make one for a boy and one for a girl, and it's something they have done together for many years now. Steele tries to add things the child receiving the box can use for awhile like coloring books, colored pencils, and always makes sure to add a pencil sharpener. Other items include little toys or an age appropriate t-shirt, and she is well versed in picking things the boys will also like.

"I have three grandsons so I pretty much know what the boys like, too," she says.

Cheyenne is very much an active participant in the entire program, and really enjoys going to the packing party at the church to lend a hand. Steele says she utilizes the program to help teach her daughter to be selfless and give back to others, and she's hearing the message loud and clear.

"She loves doing it, she's a shopper," Steele says of Cheyenne with a motherly laugh. "I wish everyone could get in the spirit of giving. The more you give, the less people will need."


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