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Shoe box gifts help kids in need in 130 countries

Pam Kiser, left, helps her children, Alex and Anna, arrange toys, candy, soap and other items Sunday into a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child in their Moorhead home. (Carrie Snyder/The Forum)

MOORHEAD -- Last year, letters from Macedonia started arriving in the Kisers' Moorhead mailbox. Then came drawings, family photos and a picture of the 10-year-old writer's two cats.

That was the first time the Kisers got an answer to a long-standing question: Where does the shoe box full of gifts they pack up each November go?

"That's something we always wonder," Pam Kiser says. "Is it going to a war-torn country? Is it going to a poverty-stricken area?"

For six years, the family has taken part in Operation Christmas Child, a charity project that ships shoe box gifts to needy children overseas. Until now, the Kisers and thousands of other local contributors knew merely that their boxes were bound for one of some 130 countries involved in the project.

But starting this year, participants will be able to find out exactly where their shoe box is headed. Pam Kiser's 10-year-old son, Alex, is excited.

"I want to know where the box goes so I can look up the country and find out how they live," he says.

This year's Fargo-Moorhead collection drive kicks off today, and organizers are shooting for 11,000 shoe boxes, to top last year's yield of 10,764 boxes.

In previous years, people would fill a shoe box with school supplies, toiletries, toys and candy. They would also include a suggested donation of $7 in cash or check to help defray shipping costs. Then, they'd drop it off at area churches.

Amy Legatt, the area coordinator, says people often ask which country their box was bound for.

"Until this year, we didn't know which country they would end up in," she says. "We just rattled off a list of countries shoe boxes were going to."

Since 1993, 69 million shoe boxes have been sent out to areas plagued by poverty, famine, natural disasters or war with Operation Christmas Child, a project of Christian relief nonprofit Samaritan's Purse.

The boxes travel by plane, sea container, truck, train or, occasionally, by dog sled or camel. This past summer, a Moorhead teen, Laura Gonshorowski, delivered boxes to the San Blas Islands in the Caribbean by dugout canoe.

Participants could include a personal note to the gift recipient, but they rarely hear back. For the Kisers, receiving word from the girl in Macedonia added greatly to the experience. They found the country on the map and researched it on Google. Six-year-old Anna Kiser now had a pen pal.

This year, the Kisers will find out where their box goes even if they don't get a letter back. Samaritan's Purse has added the option to pay the suggested donation online. Participants can then print out a label in their e-mail receipt and stick it to the box. That will help organizers track the shipment and send an e-mail with the destination.

"People are curious to know the destination of their shoe box," Legatt says, "and so I really think this tool will become popular quickly."

If you go

# What: Operation Christmas Child

# When: Today through Nov. 23

# Where: Triumph Lutheran Brethren Church, 2901 20th St. S., Moorhead; Hope Lutheran Brethren Church, 8075th St. S., Barnesville, Minn.; Community Alliance Church, 508 Elm St. W., Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Inspiration Lutheran Church, 1130 Main St., Breckenridge, Minn.

# Info: For more information, call (800) 501-2556 or visit