8 Wing Trenton, Ont., has done itself proud this year by donating 71 shoeboxes full of Christmas cheer as part of Operation Christmas Child.
“This is pretty awesome,” says wing chaplain Major Tracy Graf. “We’re very happy [to have done this] in such a short time.”
Operation Christmas Child is part of the Samaritan's Purse ministry under Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham. It is a ministry that donates shoeboxes full of small gifts and necessities such as toiletries (soap, toothbrush) and school supplies to children in impoverished nations. When culturally appropriate, the story of Jesus is also shared in the community that receives the boxes, although it is not obligatory.
“I think this may be the first year in recent times that it has been offered on the wing,” Maj Graf notes. The boxes will now be taken to the regional collection centre, which is the Maranatha Church in Belleville, Ont.
Maj Graf was able to participate in the distribution of these shoeboxes when she went to Nicaragua following Hurricane Mitch in 1998 as part of a medical missionary team. It was a life-changing experience and still brings tears to her eyes when she thinks about it.
She said people often don’t realize how important and significant this kind of gift can be to children in developing countries.
“A whole family might be using one toothbrush for a full year. A box like this can double their worldly possessions,” says Maj Graf.
Maj Graf and other chaplains hope to make this an annual event offered on the wing through the chapel. Every child 12 or under gets a box, whether they go to church or not. In 2012, Operation Christmas Child will collect their 100 millionth shoe box gift, according to the organization’s website.
The boxes collected in Canada for are destined for distribution to Costa Rica, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Guinea, Guineau Bissau, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uruguay and Venezuela.
“Some people put a picture of their own child in the shoebox and the child receiving it will take it out and hold onto it and say, ‘I have a friend in Canada’,” Maj Graf says.