Shoeboxes of love

Published 9:35 am Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wanda Shuldes shows off one of the gift-filled shoeboxes collected at First Baptist Church in Albert Lea. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

The Christmas spirit is bursting — in the form of shoeboxes — already in Albert Lea.

On Monday, First Baptist Church of Albert Lea opened its doors to Operation Christmas Child, a worldwide effort to collect shoeboxes filled with gifts for needy children.

Fliers and gift tags line the Operation Christmas Child greeting table in the First Baptist Church basement. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

Just two hours after opening its doors, volunteers had already collected 231 gift-filled shoeboxes.

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“Every box shows God’s love for children,” said volunteer Wanda Shuldes. “And these are all distributed with that goal in mind.”

Operation Christmas Child was started in 1993 by Samaritan’s Purse. Every year, the organization sends shoebox gifts to children across the nation and all over the world who are suffering from natural disaster, war, terrorism, disease, famine and poverty.

First Baptist Church has helped fill shoeboxes for the past five years, but this is the first year it is serving as a collection site.

Jayne Williamschen delivered 40 gift-filled shoeboxes Tuesday from Ascension Lutheran Church of Albert Lea. She’s helped collect boxes for this project for several years and likes having a collection site locally.

Dale Shuldes packs gift-filled shoeboxes Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Albert Lea. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

“We always had to take them to Austin before, so this is much more convenient,” she said.

Eleanor Iverson, a volunteer with Oakland Lutheran Church in rural Albert Lea, began collecting shoeboxes for the project about a month ago. She delivered 85 boxes to the local collection site on Monday.

Iverson said it wasn’t difficult convincing parishioners at Oakland Lutheran Church to give to the cause.

“These kids don’t have any other Christmas gifts, and these might be the first gifts they’ve ever gotten,” she said. “You just have to imagine the grin on these children’s faces as they’re handed a box.”

First Baptist Church has 700 large boxes to fill with gift-filled shoeboxes. Based on donations collected the first couple of days, however, organizer Rosemary Olson doesn’t expect this to be a problem.

“It’s just amazing,” she said. “I think a lot of people tend to give locally and to do this. You know it’s going to a good place whether it’s local or worldwide.”

Packing the perfect gift

Gifts are being accepted for children ages 2 to 14.

Olson said good gift ideas include school supplies, stuffed animals, small toys and hard candy. She also encouraged packing extra batteries for toys that require batteries.

Iverson encourages personal hygiene items such as toothbrushes and hand sanitizers.

Liquids, chocolate and toys related to war are not allowed.

Anyone donating a box should also include $7 shipping costs inside.

Olson invites everyone to donate, and said the church has plenty of shoe boxes, as well, for those who need boxes to fill.

When boxes are collected at First Baptist Church, donors must fill out a slip of paper that will be attached to each box, identifying whether the box is for a boy or a girl and which age group it belongs in. Boxes should not be sealed shut with tape, but with a rubber band.

After the collection is completed in Albert Lea, First Baptist Church will deliver all of the boxes to Rochester. From there, boxes will be shipped to a processing center in the Twin Cities before being shipped to an even larger collection site in the U.S. From there, the gift-filled shoeboxes will be hand-delivered to children in need across the nation and around the world.

Info shoebox
The First Baptist Church, 335 W. Clark St., Albert Lea is collecting shoebox gifts from 2 to 4 p.m. daily through Nov. 19, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 20, from noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 21 and from 10 a.m. to noon Nov. 22.