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SALT LAKE CITY — A box of brand-new crayons, a T-shirt with the tag still on it, a toothbrush, a never-before-used soccer ball.
Almost 10 million children in need will receive items like these — things they’ve never had before — at Christmastime and throughout 2014, thanks to a charity operation.
Utah volunteers and donors are joining together on a Samaritan’s Purse project called Operation Christmas Child, which organizes efforts in 11 countries to collect and deliver gift-filled shoeboxes to children around the world.
Since the project began 20 years ago, more than 103 million boxes have been delivered. About 9.8 million shoeboxes are expected to be collected this year and sent to children in more than 120 different countries.
“I just love everything it represents. It’s just this little shoebox with so much love and hope inside of it. What’s so amazing about it is it’s not only for the child who receives the box, it’s for the family and community as well,” said Kerri Payne, a full-time volunteer who works on church relations for the project.
Individuals and groups can donate shoeboxes filled with about $15 worth of supplies, toys, photos and notes of encouragement for boys and girls ages 2 to 14. Donors are also encouraged to cover the $7 shipping fee for each shoebox.
Donations from families, schools, Eagle Scout projects and community service projects are being collected through Nov. 25 at sites across the United States, including 18 in Utah. Monetary contributions can be made online as well.
“Each year the project grows, but even if we took all 9.8 million shoeboxes just to India, we wouldn’t be able to reach all the kids that are just there. It’s an ongoing thing that every year there are children that these boxes could bless,” said Alison Long, a year-round volunteer for the project for 19 years.
Long is the area coordinator for northern Utah, and she is collecting boxes this year to send to Panama, Ukraine, Nepal, Mongolia, Philippines, Indonesia and Madagascar. They’ve already collected 5,600 shoeboxes of their 17,500 goal for northern Utah.
The boxes are sent to seven processing centers where the boxes are inspected and then shipped off. National groups in the countries distribute the humanitarian relief to schools, orphanages and places torn apart by war or natural disasters.
“To know that there are people on the other side of the world that care and that are sending them help, assistance and encouragement, it makes them feel like they’re not so alone,” said Kim Giebler, who just returned Sunday from a two-week distribution trip to Haiti.
Giebler said the children were jumping up and down and dancing when she and other volunteers distributed shoeboxes full of gifts to 200 children in a small village on the outskirts of Léogâne. She said they live in plywood, tin homes put together with tarps or canvases, usually only 8 feet by 8 feet with dirt floors.
“We heard from the Samaritan’s Purse people that are there long-term that they’ll see a shoebox in that community six months later, and kids are still carrying them around with all their contents in them because it’s so special,” Giebler said.
Drop-off sites can be found at samaritanspurse.org/occ. There are three in Salt Lake Valley including the Calvary Chapel at 460 W. Century Drive, Salt Lake City; the Calvary Chapel Thrift Store at 3245 W. 7800 South, West Jordan; and Hidden Valley Presbyterian Church at 12883 S. 1300 East, Draper.