In developed countries like Canada, parents joke about their kids playing with the box more than their new toys on Christmas morning.
In the impoverished third-world countries where Operation Christmas Child (OCC) Canada delivered more than 660,000 gift-filled shoeboxes to needy kids in 2012, the packaging can be as valuable as the treats inside.
Richard Lamothe, West Africa international regional director for the Samaritan’s Purse OCC program, has seen plastic and cardboard boxes used not just by children, but by parents as tools in the household, for example to keep food and dry goods safe from pests and rodents.
Lamothe, responsible for recruiting and training on-the-ground teams in six countries in Central and West Africa, was at the West Park Church Wednesday (Oct. 2) to launch the shoebox campaign in London.
The former Canadian Forces officer returned from Africa on Monday (Oct. 1) and he’s returning to oversee the first-ever shoebox distribution in Gambia, an unrecognized country clinging to a river that runs through central Senegal, in about a month.
Hyping up the power of the program to the 20 people who attended his presentation, he said even a church was built of the larger cardboard boxes that contain the individual shoeboxes.
He told an “impact story” about each of his countries, including that a girl who carried a stick around instead of a doll until she opened a shoebox with one inside but the recurring theme was empty hands.
“I always run out of shoeboxes,” he said. “There are always more kids.”
His goal is to help OCC Canada deliver 750,000 shoeboxes to its 16 destination countries this year, places where some children have never received a gift.
In places where the Christian faith is followed by a tiny minority of the population, like 95-percent Muslim Senegal, many haven’t even heard of Christmas.
That country’s on-the-ground team delivered 13 containers or more than 130,000 shoeboxes last year (his other countries deliver four or five each year) and they want 20 in 2013.
Worldwide, OCC delivered its 100 millionth shoebox this year but even operating in more than 100 countries still only reaches three percent of the world’s child population.
Lamothe said the volunteers coordinate with local churches and community leaders to do incredible and “crazy” things to get the boxes delivered in dangerous and unpredictable conditions.
The Samaritan’s Purse has trouble getting into oil-rich but security-poor Equitorial Guinea, and OCC was shut down in Ivory Coast by civil war in 2011
“In Africa you feel like you’re on another planet,” he said. “You never know when things are going to erupt.”
New in Ontario this year is the Samaritan’s Purse transport trailer, which was at West Park promoting its OCC, disaster relief and drinking water charities.
Domestic regional manager for western Ontario Marlene Coghlin-Vanderlaan said the Samaritan’s Purse is able to go into places and provide disaster relief and medical care in some cases because OCC had been there before.
Diana Irving and Rosemary Dickinson coordinate OCC for London and area.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to give to someone you know nothing about,” Dickinson said.
West Park Church, 955 Gainsborough Road, is the Regional Collection Centre for the City. Shoe box supplies can be picked up at the church from 8:30 am to 4 pm on weekdays. During the week of November 18-23 gift-filled shoeboxes will be collected at the church, packed into cartons and sent to Kitchener for sorting at the main OCC depot before being distributed to needy children in Africa and in south and central America.
Find out more at www.samaritanspurse.ca/occ.
A list of shoebox suggestions can be found here.