MUKILTEO — John Larson helped pack hundreds of shoeboxes into cardboard cartons at Mukilteo Presbyterian Church.
The Lynnwood resident earlier this month joined a group of volunteers who accepted the packed boxes from individuals, families, churches and other groups throughout Snohomish County. Stuffed inside of most of the shoeboxes were toothbrushes, toothpaste, washcloths and hard candies. Many included small toys, crayons and other items.
“I usually throw in some kind of a soft ball, a watch, a flashlight and lots of batteries,” said Larson, 63.
The shoe boxes full of small gifts are all part of Operation Christmas Child, a project of the Christian international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. The North Carolina-based organization since 1993 has delivered the boxes to children in more than 100 countries overseas. The 100 millionth box is expected to be collected this year.
Operation Christmas Child works year-round to collect donations but holds a large push for donations every year in November called National Collection Week. Throughout Nov. 12-19, packed shoeboxes were collected at more than 3,000 sites nationwide. In Snohomish County, shoeboxes were also dropped off in Arlington, Edmonds, Lake Stevens, Marysville, Monroe, and Stanwood.
Volunteers including Lynnwood resident Tamara Young, 64, started this year’s National Collection Week with a goal of collecting 6,000 boxes.
By the evening of Nov. 19, a total of 8,318 shoeboxes had been collected from the county’s seven different drop-off locations.
“We more than made than made our goal,” Young said. “People in Snohomish County are so generous.”
Young and her husband, Jim, serve as a Snohomish County area coordinators for Operation Christmas Child. She joined collection site coordinator Dennis Hoppe and other volunteers at the Mukilteo church during National Collection Week to pack cartons of shoeboxes.
Julie Cruzan, a Mill Creek resident, handed over two red and green boxes. She filled the boxes with her 10-year-old daughter, Sophia.
“I did it with my daughter to help her learn to give,” Cruzan said. “It was a good experience for her. I’m sure it’s something we’ll do every year.”
In their second year as area coordinators, Young and her husband have donated to Operation Christmas Child for the past decade. They attend organizational meetings throughout the year and have met adults who as children received a shoebox. In April, the couple met a 23-year-old woman who shared that she still had a winter scarf and hat she received years ago when she was an orphan in Romania.
“She put it on and said, ‘It still fits,’ ” Young said. “When they give out those boxes, they’re looking at places where the kids have never gotten toys, never gotten a box, never gotten a gift, so their gratitude level goes way up.”
Volunteer opportunities extend beyond National Collection Week, Young said. Groups can host, donate items for and work at packing parties like one held in October at Mukilteo Presbyterian Church where members filled 252 boxes. Individuals like herself can buy items on sale throughout the year to put in boxes, Young added.
“I think we got our cost down to $4 a box at our packing party,” she said. “You just buy things on sale all year long, after Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Easter … They’re seasonal things to us, but when you put them in the box the kids don’t see that.”
Those who filled boxes during the week were also encouraged to write a note and include a photo.
“Kids have said they love to get a picture because even if they can’t read English they think this person loves me and they keep it forever,” Young said.
Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Operation Christmas Child, including how to volunteer and fill a shoe box, go to www.samaritanspurse.org and click on Operation Christmas Child under the ‘What We Do’ tab.