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Shoeboxes of love

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: SAMARITANS PURSE - Children in Fiji delight while opening shoeboxes filled with goodies, put together by Operation Christmas Child. Clackamas Valley Baptist Church has participated in the program for 15 years and will accept donations from Nov. 14-21. When parishioners at Clackamas Valley Baptist Church first found out about Operation Christmas Child 15 years ago, they were undeterred by a three-hour drive to drop off the donations they’d collected.

During the church’s first year of participation in the program, which connects underprivileged children around the world with Christmas gifts and literature on Christianity, the closest drop off site, or relay center, was in Yelm, Wash.

“A (former) pastor at the church introduced us to (the program), and we thought it was a worthy effort,” said Pam Ellis, a parishioner at Clackamas Valley Baptist Church and one of the program’s coordinators.

Operation Christmas Child is organized by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief and evangelism organization. Since its inception in 1993, it’s become the largest project of its kind. Volunteers across the world help collect, ship and distribute shoeboxes with toys, hygiene items, school supplies and information about the story of Jesus to children in more than 150 countries and territories.

Throughout the project’s duration, more than 7.4 million children have participated in a 12-lesson follow-up program that teaches the tenets of Christianity and God’s love.

After donations are gathered at relay centers, they’re processed and sent to their recipients. Samaritan’s Purse has volunteers in 100 countries such as Cambodia, Fiji and Malawi, who connect underprivileged children with the shoeboxes in the area they’re serving. While most boxes go abroad, some are sent to Native American Reservations in the United States.

Soon after Clackamas Valley Baptist Church began participating in the program, a relay center opened in Portland. But as local interest in the program grew, the church saw a role for an East Clackamas County relay center.

“As it progressed, there was more interest and more boxes,” said Ellis. “We realized we could be a relay center and collect boxes from individuals and other churches.”

Their first year of participation, Clackamas Valley Baptist Church collected 40 shoeboxes. Last year, they collected 911, and this year, they hope for at least 1,000.

In addition to serving Estacada, the church is the closest relay center for Colton, Sandy and the Villages at Mount Hood.

The project’s national collection week is scheduled for Nov. 14-21, during which time anyone interested can drop off donations at Clackamas Valley Baptist Church, 29275 S.E. Eagle Creek Road. Those interested can donate already-filled shoeboxes or individual items and are encouraged to include a note and photo of themselves for the recipient.

Ellis, who said she looks forward to the project every year, hasn’t met any of the children who have received her shoe boxes over the years, but has received letters from some of them.

“There are a lot of full circle stories of kids getting boxes when they’re young, and then they get involved with the project when they’re older,” she said, adding the project has a kickoff event every year, and the speakers have received the boxes in previous years.

“It’s an opportunity to make a tangible impact on a child’s life,” she said. “You may not have met them, but they’ll know someone loves them.”

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