By Kevin Fleming
To the uninitiated the Samaritan’s Purse distribution centre in Calgary looks chaotic. It’s where hundreds of thousands of shoe boxes arrive in late November to be sorted and shipped to needy children all over the world.
But upon closer inspection, it’s a well-oiled machine. Volunteers have specific tasks and receive guidance from coaches wearing red aprons.
Grant Abbott is one of those coaches and has been guiding rookie volunteers for 10 years. He constantly keeps an eye on his group to make sure everything runs smoothly. He’s seen thousands of shoe boxes processed in the warehouse over the years.
“Well, 415,000 last year alone in three weeks went through here,” said Abbott. “11,000 volunteers come in here and so yeah, we have to be pretty organized.”
When Abbott retired, his wife encouraged him to be part of Operation Christmas Child and after his first season he was hooked.
“Samaritan’s Purse has done an awesome job tweaking little things every year to make it even better, it’s been wonderful,” he said. “We have training that volunteers go through, there’s a video on the wall that they can watch, there’s instructions on the table and then of course, as coaches can say, let me show you a couple things, you know answering questions is a big part of it.”
STARTED IN 1993
Operation Christmas Child started in 1993 and Canada is one of 11 countries that pack shoe boxes for children in 100 countries annually.
Ben Silcox is the communications manager for Samaritan’s Purse and says trucks from across Canada arrive daily at the distribution centre. Operation Christmas Child is gearing up for its 200,000,000th box to be processed and shipped this holiday season.
“I think we’ve processed or inspected over 100,000 (here) already with many more to come,” he said. “These boxes are going to go to children in Central America, countries like El Salvador, Costa Rica, the west coast of Africa, like Senegal, then also in the Philippines and to Ukraine this year.”
Silcox says volunteers are on the lookout for items that can’t go in a shoe box like glass that might break or liquids, food or medications that would spoil or potentially hold up a gift at customs.
“Good things to put in are school supplies, things like notebooks and pencils that help kids when they’re going to school,” he said. “Hygiene items, things like soap, a face cloth and toothbrushes and then toys – those things are going to delight a child.”
Volunteers come from all across the country to help sort shoe boxes. Norma Weibe and her husband Arnold are from Swift Current and they’re in Calgary for a two day stay to help out at the warehouse. They’ve packed gifts for 20 years and it’s a family tradition. Their 11-year-old granddaughter Emma is in her sixth year donating. This year she raised $1,000 and packed 40 shoe boxes.
“She collects pop cans and then she gets the money from that and she will pack shoe boxes with that money,” Norma said. “It’s a project we really enjoy and our hearts are really into this.”
She says they could just give money to a charity but this donation is more personal and heartwarming.
Samaritan’s Purse has made it easier for people who want to donate a shoe box but have run out of time, with an online option.
“Our national collection week has passed that was November 14 to 20th for packing the physical boxes,” Silcox said. “The online shoe boxes can be packed, even today and then we are fulfilling those orders as we speak.”
Learn more about the Operation Christmas Child here: www.packabox.ca