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IN 1993, Samaritan's Purse and Franklin Graham began Operation Christmas Child, collecting just 28,000 shoebox gifts in the United States. Since then, the kids-helping-kids project has collected and hand delivered more than 77 million shoebox gifts worldwide. (photo: Mexico) Franklin Graham is president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse, the international relief organization that runs Operation Christmas Child.

Shoebox full of love

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Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Most children are more than happy to tell parents what they want for Christmas -- a new toy, a princess dress, race cars, the latest movie. But what about the children who have nothing and only desire a bath, socks and maybe a piece of candy?

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For the second year, Community Alliance Church in Detroit Lakes is serving as the official drop-off and collection point for Operation Christmas Child, the world's largest Christmas project.

Shoeboxes that are stuffed and dropped off at the church are sent to "more than 8 million children in 100 countries suffering from natural disaster, war, terrorism, disease, famine and poverty," according to the Samaritan's Purse website, the parent organization of Operation Christmas Child.

Locally though, Julie Storsved, Detroit Lakes, has been the coordinator at Community Alliance Church the two years it's been an official collection point.

She said she packs all of the boxes into cartons and keeps track of how many boxes are then being transported to Moorhead's Triumph Lutheran Church, which collected over 10,000 shoeboxes alone last year. From there the shoeboxes are transferred to the Twin Cities, where they are repackaged -- to ensure everything in them is safe -- and from there are distributed worldwide.

Those donating the shoeboxes are asked to send along $7 to cover shipping costs -- although it's not required if a family can't afford the $7 -- and if that $7 is given online, families can track where their shoebox ends up. An EZ Give donation form can be found online at www.samaritanspurse.org.

"They'll send you an e-mail once the box is distributed and tell you what country it went to," Storsved said.

Last year Detroit Lakes and the surrounding communities sent 501 shoeboxes, and this year, Storsved said she'd like to collect 600 from Nov. 15-21.

"This year we're going for 600, and it'd be really nice if we got 1,000, but I'd be totally overwhelmed," she said with a laugh. "We'd be taking several trips to Moorhead then."

To be an official collection site, Storsved had to send in an application and go through an interview "to make sure our ideas aligned with Samaritan's Purse."

Community Alliance Church is located at 408 Elm St. West, and drop-off hours are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, and Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered more than 77 million gift-filled shoeboxes to needy children in 130 countries. For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child, call 1-800-353-5949 or visit www.samaritanspurse.org.

"It's one of those things that has a huge impact on children and entire families worldwide," she said. "There are stories of children who can't go to school, and when they open their box, there are pencils in there so they can go (to school)."

One story specifically that touched Storsved lately, she said a little boy had a skin condition and had such sore feet he couldn't walk, therefore couldn't play or go to school.

"In his shoebox, he received simple white socks. His parents couldn't afford socks, and that was basically what he had to do for treatment. So by receiving those socks, it enabled him to be a child, go to school and play."

The boxes are distributed to refugee camps, war-torn countries, and those suffering from natural disasters (the Haiti earthquake, for example).

"It's places that gives them a little bit of hope and a little glimpse that there are people out in the world that love you," Storsved said.

One family who knows firsthand that the shoeboxes really do arrive to children in need is the Boyd and Connie Johnson family of Detroit Lakes.

When they were in Russia in 2005, adopting their son, Edward, the boxes were being distributed in a nearby village. While Connie said she didn't get to see it with her own eyes, some other people she was with got pictures and she have copies of them.

"Edward does remember receiving them a couple times, too," she said of her son. "So, they actually do get there."

The Johnson family has been filling multiple shoeboxes since their oldest daughter was very young, at least 15 years ago, Johnson said.

"It just makes it so much more real now that we were there," she said. "And that my son got them, too, at some point."

Even before Storsved was coordinator of the operation at Community Alliance Church, she and her husband helped their children fill shoeboxes to donate each November.

"It's a simple, nice Christmas tradition. I know it's before you start thinking about Christmas usually, but kids really love filling a shoebox. And it's so easy because it can be such simple, inexpensive items we take for granted -- like soap and toothbrushes and little flashlights and decks of cards," she said. "It's the simple things that we have around here and don't even really sometimes think of as gifts that sometimes make the biggest impact with the children there.

"The kids just really love doing it, so we've used it as a way to kick off our Christmas season," she added. "It gives them a chance to reflect on what they have."

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