Some gifts not waiting for Santa Claus’ sleigh

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

One of the strength of Samaritan’s Purse is kids helping kids, organizers say. Seven-year-old Finn McCullagh places his shoe box donation for Operation Christmas Child on a table Monday at First United Methodist Church of Durango.

By Ann Butler Herald staff writer

They’ll travel by car, truck and bus; boat and plane; elephant and dogsled. But the shoe boxes donated by millions of Americans will be at their destinations long before Santa Claus’ sleigh takes off on Christmas Eve.

The shoe boxes are filled with gifts ranging from toys and school supplies to personal hygiene items and notes from donors. They are presented to poor children around the world in the largest project of its type in the world, Operation Christmas Child.

CeCe Sallee, the coordinator for Southwest Colorado’s part of Operation Christmas Child, reported that church members and individuals sent 3,513 shoe boxes Monday. They were trucked in from Cortez and Pagosa Springs as well as being collected in Durango.

The total fell slightly short of the goal of 3,650 boxes, which local organizers hoped to collect as part of a 9.1 million shoe box goal set by Samaritan’s Purse, the national group that organizes Operation Christmas Child.

“Millions of hurting children who are victims of poverty, natural disaster, war, terrorism and famine receive Operation Christmas Child shoe box gifts,” Samaritan’s Purse said in a news release. “For some of these boys and girls, it is the first gift they have ever received. Through the power of a simple gift and the message of hope through Jesus Christ, these children learn that they are loved and not forgotten.”

Collection numbers for this season are not available yet, said Karen Dye of The DeMoss Group, which handles media relations for Samaritan’s Purse. “The collection centers are closed, and the shoe boxes are en route to seven processing centers across the U.S., where they will be counted and then shipped to countries around the world. We won’t know until mid-December if we met our goal.”

If the goal is met, Samaritan’s Purse will have crossed the 100 million mark in 2012.

The boxes will travel around the world to 99 countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe. They’ll end up in Eastern Europe, South and Central America, Africa, Asia and remote locations such as Madagascar, the Seychelles and the Solomon Islands. Those who registered their shoe boxes can now track them to the country where they will be delivered.

One strength of the project is how it encourages children to help children. Alan Studer, a volunteer with the First United Methodist Church of Durango, which served as the collection point for Southwest Colorado, said one of this year’s highlights was a visit from a teenage girl from Norwood, who helped deliver shoe boxes in Mongolia last year.

Another child is going to have a special honor this year.

Evilyn Pinnow, 12, of Fort Atkinson, Wis., will deliver the 100 millionth shoe box in the Dominican Republic. She was selected because of her long-term support of Operation Christmas Child.

In 2009, at age 8, Evilyn founded the Shoe Box Club, recruiting other children from her town to solicit donations of shoe boxes and contents, which the club would assemble every month.

This year, when the club hoped to reach the 1,900 shoe box mark, to ensure the club continues as she grows up, Evilyn encouraged the club to make the rule that board members can’t be any older than the sixth grade.

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