The Christmas season never fails to highlight the spirit of giving but it doesn't take a calendar to determine the right time of year to give to underprivileged children.
Their need exists 365 days of the year.
For 20 years, Operation Christmas Child has been providing Prince George families and individuals the opportunity to send gifts to kids in countries stricken by poverty, disease, war or natural disasters. The gifts they receive are contained in shoeboxes stuffed with toys, school supplies and personal hygiene items. Sometime this year, the 100 millionth shoebox will be handed out.
Last year, Samaritian's Purse Canada sent 672,274 shoeboxes prepared by Canadians to needy individuals. Each year there about 4,000 boxes sent from Prince George.
"A lot of these kids don't understand the notion that somebody somewhere else cares about them enough to send them things they need," said Finlay Sinclair, who is organizing the local chapter of Operation Christmas Child with his wife Michele.
"It's helping them with the basics of life and giving them the tools to learn and it's about grace. Do we care about kids who don't have much or never will have much? The response is explosive, these kids can't believe they are getting a gift. It's pretty special."
From Nov. 19 to 25, during national collection week, local donors can bring their filled boxes to the Hartland Baptist Church, 6599 Driftwood Rd. From there, the gifts will be trucked to Calgary, where they will be inspected for illegal or dangerous items before they are sent to the receiving countries.
The gifts are geared to kids of three different age groups (2-4, 5-9, 10-14) and include personal notes to the kids and sometimes pictures of the donors. Donors put in gifts like calculators, soccer balls, dolls, craft items and candy.
The program also provides opportunities for individuals to go to the countries to help hand out the shoeboxes. Michele Sinclair went to Costa Rica for that purpose two years ago and the Sinclair's 14-year-old daughter Emily is preparing to go there this Christmas. Costa Rica, Venezuela, Haiti and West Africa will be receiving shoebox gifts this year from Canada.
"Some of the countries where the boxes are going don't even celebrate Christmas, but what they are receiving is a package of love and care and hope from people they don't know," said Michele Sinclair. "For them, it's an optimistic message that we are a global community and there are people around the world caring for you and thinking about you."
Churches and social agencies in the receiving countries find the children who receive the gifts. Each receiving agency goes through a screening process to make sure the gifts get to their intended recipients.
"A woman in Calgary on Facebook told the story about a girl in Chile who opened her box and she was laughing and crying [at the same time], said Michele. "The family had put a picture on top of the gift box, saying how they were thinking about her. Just that expression gave her a sense of not being alone in the world. For some kids, having a pair of flip-flops is the difference between being able to go to school or not."