BY BAILEY HEINZERLING
---- — PLATTSBURGH — A gift can come in any form, but for millions of children receiving one for the first time in their life, it will come in a shoe box from Operation Christmas Child.
The First Assembly of God Church at 164 Prospect Ave., Plattsburgh has been helping Samaritan’s Purse collect shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child since 1999, said Rita Alford, the effort’s regional director and church secretary.
Packed with school supplies, necessity items, toys, letters of encouragement and hope, Alford said, boxes are gift-wrapped and sent by any means possible to be hand-delivered by thousands of volunteers to children in more than 100 countries.
Depending on the country’s resources and customs regulations, volunteers throughout the globe utilize boat, donkey, tractor-trailer, cars and even yaks and camels to deliver the packages, which aren’t all there by Christmas, Alford said.
But to the children, that doesn’t matter.
“Many of them have never had a gift,” Alford said. “It gives a child hope.”
Hoping to hit a milestone, Alford said, Operation Christmas Child aims to reach more than 100 million shoe boxes distributed worldwide to victims of disease, famine, war, disaster and poverty since the organization began in 1993 by collecting 9 million shoe boxes this year.
“Even with that total since 1993, it still wouldn’t be enough for every child in India under 14 years old to receive a gift,” she said.
SAW THE JOY
During a volunteer trip to hand out the boxes in 2009, Alford witnessed first-hand the impact the packages had on the children.
“I had the privilege to travel to the Dominican Republican, and the joy on their faces is indescribable. When you go to places like that you are so humbled by how much we have and how little they have. The smile and joy stays with you forever,” Alford said.
Area volunteers made up of businesses, churches, organizations, individuals and local families contributed to the 6,356 shoe boxes collected here last year, Alford said. The local goal this year is 7,500.
Putting a box together requires a $7 donation to cover shipping costs, but as Karen Lawliss found out after sending boxes for almost 10 years, it doesn’t have to be expensive.
Using back-to-school sales in the summertime and saving the boxes when one of her three boys gets a new pair of shoes, Lawliss contributes somewhere between 10 or 20 boxes each year.
Every year, she marks a day in October on her calendar for their annual tradition, which now includes her mother-in-law, who uses reusable Rubbermaid containers instead of shoe boxes, and two of the boys’ cousins.
Crayons, coloring books, toothbrushes, combs, first-aid kits, stuffed animals, prayers and a picture of the boys, she said, are “some of the little things that are so basic and mean so much to them,” Lawliss said.
“A little goes a long way.”
During collection week, Nov. 12 to 19, Alford and the church will gather boxes from eight collection centers across Clinton, Franklin, Essex and St. Lawrence counties to be sent to a year-round collection and processing center at Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in Boone, N.C., where they’re sorted and screened before being sent overseas.
“It’s not just a box,” Alford said. “(It’s) the powerful impact of hope. Hope of the gospel; the hope a stranger is there to help.”TO HELP Some gift ideas include toys, hygiene items, school supplies, a personal note, hard candy, sunglasses, hair clips and similar items. Do not include used or damaged items; war-related items, such as toy guns, knives or military figures; chocolate or food; out-of-date candy; liquids or lotions; medications or vitamins; breakable items, such as snowglobes or glass containers; or aerosol cans. Filled shoe boxes can be dropped off at First Assembly of God Church, 164 Prospect Ave., Plattsburgh, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 12 through 16, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 17, 1 to 5 p.m. Nov. 18 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 19. For packing instructions or more information, visit http://is.gd/eXErwi, or call 563-5799 to reach Rita Alford at First Assembly of God.