Operation Christmas Child - 080053 Newsroom

Operation Mercy: How shoeboxes can change lives

Written by Radhika Panjwani

BRAMPTON—Dozens of colourful hats, designed to warm the heads-and the hearts-of children around the world were on display at a Brampton event.

In the coming weeks, more than 5,000 hand-knitted toques, crafted with care by the women at Holland Christian Homes (HCH) in Brampton, will be tucked into shoe boxes with other gifts as part of Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child project and sent to different countries around the world.

Earlier this week, the HCH hosted its annual Hat Gathering Tea, where the women collect, count and celebrate the creations.

“We have been making around 5,000 hats a year,” said Ruth Bruinsma, director, Operation Mercy, a charity of HCH. “The hats you see here will be taken to Samartian’s Purse’s processing centre in Waterloo, Ont., and shipped to countries like Haiti, Sierra Leone, Nicaragua and others. This is our way as Christians and Canadians to share the message of joy, love and hope.”

Some 100 people gathered to enjoy a spot of tea or coffee, sing hymns and offer prayers for the children they may never meet, but want to help none-the-less.

The knitters also heard from a Kitchener, Ont. woman who talked about how, as a young girl in Romania, she received such a shoebox which she said changed her life.

Damaris Vezentan, 34, a Romanian native, was nine when she received a shoebox for Christmas, courtesy, Samaritan’s Purse.

When the young girl gathered courage and opened the lid to take a peek inside the box, the first gift she had ever received, she gasped at the sight of a bright hat, a porcelain doll, a journal, a bible verse and a photograph of the family that had donated the items.

“Everything that I wanted was in that box,” recalled Vezentan, who immigrated to Canada shortly afterwards. “I opened the box and found a notebook in it and that was very significant because I loved to write and always wanted a notebook. There was also a note about God’s love-I couldn’t memorize the entire verse but I understood it as: Love gives. That became my message. Even today, I believe: when you love, you give.”

This past year, Vezentan, now a volunteer for Samaritan’s Purse, traveled to Senegal to deliver the boxes and found herself experiencing the same joy she felt when she received her gift.

“I was able to complete the circle (of giving),” she said. “I gave three shoe boxes that my children packed to other children. The shoebox has impacted me twice-once when I received it and later when I gifted it.”

Jane Douma, founding member of Operation Mercy, said a video showing a child in rags at an orphanage in Ukraine struck a raw nerve. She could not get the image out of her mind and, in 2002, decided to knit 25 hats for the children-despite the fact she didn’t know how to knit.

After learning the basics from her sister, Douma began knitting the hats. Her friends helped and that year they handed 345 hats to the Canadian charity that operated the orphanage.

“I asked the lady (at the office) how many children were there at the orphanage and she told me 1,500,” Douma said. “I promised her, next Christmas, all 1,500 of them would have hats. And we did it.”

Operation Christmas Child - 080053 Newsroom

Please donate $12 for every shoebox you prepare. Your donations will help cover project costs, including shipping (make one combined donation for multiple shoeboxes). Consider making an additional donation to help Samaritan's Purse go beyond the shoebox and expand assistance to children, their families, and their communities. Samaritan's Purse does not provide receipts for the value of gift items included in a shoebox.