More than 200 million shoeboxes have been gifted thanks to Operation Christmas Child (OCC) since 1993, and that number will continue to rise thanks to the people of the Central Plains.

These shoe boxes are meant to show children in other countries who would not otherwise get a gift for Christmas that somebody cares for or loves them. OCC encourages donors to include small items such as Hot Wheels, soccer balls, blankets, notebooks, berets, scarves, runners, shoes, flip flops, crayons, flashlights, and more. These simple yet thoughtful items can make a big difference in a child's life.

Eileen Warthe, the OCC area coordinator for Portage and the surrounding area, says donors can drop off their gift boxes at the Portage Mall from Wednesday, November 15, to Saturday, November 18, between 10:00 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.

She notes shoeboxes can also be dropped off at other times at the Portage Evangelical Church or Solomon's Home Garden Gift.

"OCC is an opportunity that people have to pack a shoe box with toiletries, school supplies, and fun things that a boy or girl would enjoy, and these boxes go to war-torn areas or to areas quite often where kids have never had a gift before," she continues. "For many, this is their first gift ever, and this often is a life-changing expression of love for them; to think that somebody, somewhere else, cares for them."

File Photo.Operation Christmas Child in Portage in 2022.

Warthe shares that the gift recipients are extremely grateful upon receiving a shoebox. Having the opportunity to travel multiple times as a part of OCC, Warthe has witnessed firsthand the joy that these boxes bring to families.

"I was in Paraguay in 2011, and I remember a father coming up to me and saying, 'Thank you! Thank you! Go home and say thank you to everyone!'"

In Orlando last year, Warthe got to catch up with one girl who acquired a notebook in her shoebox.

"She was able to use her notebook to write down the people who were in the orphanage with her so that she would never forget them. That notebook just became a precious thing that she will hold on to for years. It's amazing what we think is something insignificant and yet can play a very powerful thing for kids in another country."

Warthe notes that OCC aims to collect 1,800 shoe boxes for the Portage area this year.

In response to Canada's Online News Act and Meta (Facebook and Instagram) removing access to local news from their platforms, PortageOnline encourages you to get your news directly from your trusted source by bookmarking this page and downloading the PortageOnline app.