Christmas may still be two months away, but residents in and around Estevan are already in the festive spirit and have started packing shoeboxes for the annual Operation Christmas Child program. 

"Operation Christmas Child has been a program of Samaritans's Purse since 1993," explained local campaign coordinator Jillian Ursu. "What happens is, people in Canada pack shoebox filled gifts and they send them off to children in other countries. Children that are hurting, they're often in war-torn situations or disaster areas. It's a simple but incredible gift, a way of letting them know that they're not forgotten, that they're loved. It's a wonderful program."

Children in countries like Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ukraine receive boxes packed with toys and other items. Last year, 1534 boxes were collected in Estevan and area and she noted that 54 boxes have already been returned so far this year. 

"We recommend a balance between toys and hygiene items and school supplies so they get some of those fun things like dolls, soccer balls, stuffed animals, musical instruments and those kinds of things. And then other things that they might have more use of like socks, hats, shorts, shorts, toothbrushes, a wash cloths and a comb. And then school supplies like pencils, pens, crayons, notebooks, all those sorts of things."

As well, there is a suggested donation to help with shipping costs which has been raised to $10 this year. 

Ursu noted that there are some things that you can't include in your boxes. Candy had been allowed but in the last few years, due to custom issues, it was taken off the list. 

"Another item that can't go in is toothpaste. Anything that is used, breakable items, anything that can leak, melt or freeze."

She also adds that playing cards are not allowed. 

"In some countries, there's issues with gambling or just that cards are seen as something that is negative."

As well, any type of violent toy such as toy guns, water guns and toy knives are not allowed.

"Nothing that could scare a child. No war related toys."

She adds that new in the past few years is the Ukraine initiative. 

"That's been getting more popular in the last couple years. It encourages people who already pack a shoebox to pack an extra shoebox for the Ukraine. Those boxes can be a little bit different in the sense that it's one of the only places that we send to that gets cold so you can send things like mitts, toques, scarves and fuzzy socks."

"If you're a large group, you can actually have the boxes shipped directly to you. Just go on Samaritan' Anyone who is an individual or a smaller group can come into the collection centre which is in the Estevan Alliance Church. And that is where the boxes in our area are returned to. So once you've gotten them filled and ready to go, then you can bring them back."

Boxes can be dropped off on or before November 19th.

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