Weatherford Democrat

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August 20, 2012

Donors encouraged to use back-to-school sales

PARKER COUNTY — Though the Christmas holiday is still months away, several community members around Weatherford have already gotten into the spirit by collecting for Operation Christmas Child, a charity branch of Samaritan’s Purse.

With the start of school quickly approaching, Weatherford collection center coordinator Shirley Riebe is encouraging others to take advantage of back-to-school sales to get a jump on the project.

“The collecting process has already kind of started and of course there are some people that have already started collecting,” Riebe said.

The concept of the program is simple. Families or individuals can purchase items from toys to toothbrushes and toothpaste, candy, socks or school supplies. The items are stored in a shoebox and transported and handed out to needy children all over the world.

Riebe and her church, North Side Baptist, have served as a collection center for the Weatherford area for the past 14 years.

“People were already collecting, but they’d have to drive to Fort Worth and find the area to drop the shoeboxes off at,” Riebe said. “That’s when we became a drop off center so that it would be a lot more convenient.”

The program started out small, with about 250 boxes, she said, but has grown into the thousands each year.

“It’s just a really good thing,” she says. “Of course we want to help our kids here in America, and this is just a nice, easy way to help out other children around the world.”

Each year, the church also participates in packing and handing out backpacks to kids prior to the school year. The backpacks come complete with donated school supplies, including notebooks, folders, pencils and markers.

“Now, we’re ready to focus on Operation Christmas Child,” Riebe said.

Any kind of children’s articles are acceptable for the boxes, but liquids are discouraged, as they can leak and ruin other items in the box, she said.

“Anything from small socks to barrettes or children’s toys,” Riebe said. “They just love balls.”

While shoeboxes are preferred, boot boxes will also be accepted. Boxes may be wrapped in wrapping paper, but the box and lid must be covered separately, with a rubber band placed around the box to secure the contents.

Operation Christmas Child anticipates reaching a milestone by collecting and delivering shoeboxes to more than 100 million children since the project began in 1993, spokeswoman Meredith Bartlemay said.

One teenager, Oksana Nelson, shared her story when she came to Weatherford in 2008.

Growing up in a Russian orphanage, Nelson actually received a shoebox from Operation Christmas Child.

“It was so impacting seeing the faces of the two children in the photo that cared about someone they didn’t even know on the other side of the world,” she said. “A simple ‘thank-you’ for the love they sent me in that shoe box would never be enough.”

The following year, Nelson was adopted by an American family and made her residence in Weatherford.

While participants can start collecting items whenever, National Collection Week for the gift-filled shoeboxes is Nov. 12 through Nov. 19.

To get involved at the local level, call 817-599-8612, 817-596-0194 or 817-613-1370. More information can also be found at the Operation Christmas Child website at www.samaritanspurse.org/occ.

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