ESTEVAN - Estevan and surrounding communities collected 397 shoeboxes filled with gifts for kids around the world this year.
Operation Christmas Child saw a bit less in-person engagement, noted Jillian Ursu, who is in her 10th year as the team lead of the local campaign, but people still have the option to pack more gifts for kids online. The online contributions are not included in the local total and the organizers won't know that figure until later.
"The campaign went well. It's comparable to last year. I think we had about 60 more last year, so we are really close," Ursu said.
Last year, there were about 50 more shoeboxes packed in the southeast through an online option.
Operation Christmas Child is a project of the Christian charity Samaritan's Purse, and it brings hope and joy into the lives of hurting children around the world, thanks to gift-filled shoeboxes.
Since its inception in 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 209 million shoeboxes to children in over 170 countries and territories. For many of these children, the shoebox is the first gift they have ever received.
Boxes packed locally, along with others from Canada this year, will be going to children in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Ukraine and the Philippines. Ursu said the decision on recipient countries is usually based on several factors.
"It's often where they can make partnerships of some sort to be able to get the boxes over there. And then also, there's Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child in other countries, like the United States, the U.K. [as well as Australia, Austria, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland], so we try to go in different countries that they partner with," she explained.
Now that the campaign has been running in Estevan for over 10 years, a lot of people are more familiar with the process, which made it smoother.
"Most people came in with their tags on their box, their elastics on their box and all ready to go, and just brought it in. They knew the process. There were a few though that you definitely knew they were packing for the first time. We just go through the brochure and give them a heads up … on some of the don'ts to put in the box and some ideas of what to put in there, too," Ursu said.
About five to 10 per cent of supporters were new to the campaign, Ursu said, but some of them had been impacted by the project before and wanted to continue the tradition.
"We get a lot of people who are newcomers to the area, who pack because they either themselves received a shoebox, or they knew somebody who did. So, you hear stories about that, too, and it's really neat to meet some of the people like that," Ursu said.
She also thanked the volunteers who helped her collect the boxes this year.
"We put a call out usually within our church for people to volunteer during collection week because we were open quite a bit during collection … I think we had 13 volunteers total that were working throughout the week to help make sure that people had a friendly face to greet them when they brought their boxes. I wouldn't be able to do it without them," Ursu said.