"An offering of hope for the future" is how teachers Judy Gilbert and Marilyn Smith describe their experience of distributing Christmas gifts to children in Croatia and Bosnia.
The gifts Gilbert and Smith refer to were assembled last fall by Calgary teachers, students and parents as part of Operation Christmas Child (OCC), organized by Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization.
OCC, now in its third year, encourages local children to gather gifts for children living in areas affected by intense conflict. Last year, over 300,000 shoe boxes were collected in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. The shoe boxes were packed with gifts and sent to needy children in Rwanda, Bosnia and Croatia. Over 50,000 of these boxes were from Canada. This year, the program will deliver gifts to children in Romania and Slovenia.
Gilbert, who teaches at Calgary's Sherwood Junior High School and Smith, a teacher at Good Shepherd Elementary in Okotoks, organized and promoted the program in Calgary. When asked about their experience in the former Yugoslavia they said, "The parents and teachers we met in Croatia and Bosnia wanted their children to experience the love symbolized by the shoe boxes. They hoped that one day their children will be prepared to help others who are suffering to follow this example of giving."
Jack Norman, also a teacher from Calgary, helped distribute gifts in a Rwandan orphanage. Norman, who is working on this year's program, said interest is building. "In the first week of September, a parent volunteer phoned to say students from her children's school spent the entire summer collecting Kool Aid points in order to have lots of prizes to put in their shoe boxes this year. Students, teachers and volunteers that were involved last year said they received much more from the program than they gave to it," he explained.
This year's program kicks off with information workshops in Calgary and Edmonton. Invitations to attend the workshops will be sent to schools. In Edmonton, a workshop will be held October 3 at 7:30 p.m. in Teglar Hall, Concordia College. Calgary's workshop is slated for October 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Jenkins Theatre, Mount Royal College.
For more information, call the Operation Christmas Child Hotline in Calgary at 262-KIDS. Outside Calgary, telephone 1-800-30-31-BOX.