Operation Christmas Child regional coordinator Robin Earle, of Chandler, briefs a group of volunteers before they pack shoeboxes. Through the program, Samaritan’s Purse has distributed shoebox gifts to children in over 130 countries since 1993.
Tribune file photo

While some people already are counting the days to Christmas, a group of East Valley families are counting the days to Operation Christmas Child.

They are part of the annual national project by the nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse, which aims to send decorated plastic shoeboxes filled with toys and necessities to thousands of needy children around the world. The group’s national collection week is Nov. 13-20.

“We are motivated by not only the needs of the children internationally but also the impact on individuals packing boxes,” said regional coordinator Robin Earle of Chandler, echoing the project’s theme of “reaching children and families on both sides of the box.”

Samaritan’s Purse has distributed shoebox gifts to children in over 130 countries since 1993, and more than 12 million received one last year. Earle noted that boxes packed by Arizonans last year were delivered to kids in India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Ukraine

The idea behind the project is simple: Pack a shoebox with school supplies, toiletries and small toys. Prohibited items include toothpaste, candy, liquids, perishable food and war-related toys.

The containers can be pre-decorated photo-storage boxes or plastic or conventional shoeboxes with tops and bottoms gift-wrapped separately so they can be checked before they are shipped. Donors also are asked to donate $9 per box to defray shipping costs.

Two separate teams are covering the East Valley.

The Southeast Valley Team covers Apache Junction, Gilbert, Globe, Mesa, Queen Creek and San Tan Valley.

Its new central drop-off location is Harvest East Valley, 1120 S. Gilbert Road, Gilbert. It will be open 3-7 p.m. Nov. 13-17, 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Nov. 18, 1-4 p.m. Nov. 19 and 1-7 p.m. Nov. 20.

Other drop-off locations can be found by entering a ZIP code at samaritanspurse.org/occ.

Earle coordinates the South Mountain Team, which covers Ahwatukee, Chandler and Tempe.

Its new central drop-off is Chandler First Baptist Church, 3405 S. Arizona Ave., Chandler. It will be open daily noon-5 p.m. Nov. 13-19 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 20.

Earle said her family has been part of Operation Christmas Child for 24 years.

“Our family started packing boxes when the kids were preschoolers and now they’re getting married,” she said. “How time flies!”

Three years ago, she participated in a shoebox distribution in the Philippines, where pastors invited children from their communities to receive gifts.

The country had been hit with a typhoon and a powerful earthquake.

“People were literally walking on rubble and were so grateful for our gifts of love,” Earle said.

Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world.

Since 1970, it has helped victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease and famine and bases its name on the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan. It describes itself as an organization that “serves the church worldwide to promote the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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