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Shoeboxes filled with love

Children from around the world -- like Panama - are excited each year to receive shoeboxes through Operation Christmas Child filled with items including pencils, paper, soap and socks as well as fun items like stuffed animals, toys and candy. Over 1,000 shoeboxes from Detroit Lakes area residents are distributed among the millions given out each year. Submitted Photo1 / 5
Children from around the world -- like Madagascar -- are excited each year to receive shoeboxes through Operation Christmas Child filled with items including pencils, paper, soap and socks as well as fun items like stuffed animals, toys and candy. Over 1,000 shoeboxes from Detroit Lakes area residents are distributed among the millions given out each year. Submitted Photo2 / 5
Lillian Shafer has been packing hundreds of shoeboxes each year for Operation Christmas Child. She cut back to 200 boxes this year. Submitted Photo3 / 5
Lillian Shafer collects items throughout the year and then packages as many shoeboxes as she can before delegating the task to others. Submitted Photos4 / 5
After shoeboxes are dropped off at Community Alliance Church, volunteers help package them into larger boxes for transportation to Moorhead and eventually to Minneapolis, where they are then dsitributed around the world. Submitted Photo5 / 5

For years, Lillian Shafer has been putting together shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.

The Detroit Lakes woman is a month shy of turning 80 and has decided to cut back on the amount of shoeboxes she packs this year. This year, she'll only pack about 200 shoeboxes -- yes, cutting back to 200.

"It's about as much as I can handle and whatever I have left over, I'll delegate to my daughter," she said.

In the past, she's donated up to 350 boxes packed with items for underprivileged children of all ages that are sent to various countries through the Samaritan's Purse organization.

"I read about it first of all," she said of how and why she started packaging the shoeboxes years ago. "I always like to do things for children all over the world. I know we have problems a lot here, too, but all over the world is really a mess."

Besides the shoeboxes, she's also made layettes to send to other countries for babies in need. When it came time for the shoeboxes though, she said she thought, "Why not do some fun things?"

So she collects items -- toys, toothbrushes, toothpaste, clothing, socks, hair accessories, stuffed animals, pencils, markers and much more -- throughout the year, finding bargains here and there. Three of her daughters live in the Twin Cities and also buy clearance items after Christmas for her to use in the shoeboxes.

When she started packing the boxes years ago, Shafer said she would spend all year finding shoeboxes. Now, Samaritan's Purse also provides boxes if needed, which Shafer said she gladly takes advantage of so she doesn't have to search high and low all year for boxes.

What she doesn't get packed up in shoeboxes herself, Shafer said she'll either bring to Detroit Lakes, where someone else can pack the boxes for her, or have one her daughters take some to pack at her church in the Cities.

In Detroit Lakes, Community Alliance Church is the drop site for all shoeboxes. They will be collecting boxes from Nov. 12-18 this year and have set the goal of 1,500 boxes to be collected.

Coordinator Julie Storsved said in the last few years, the number of boxes has climbed from 300 to 600 to 1,006 boxes from the Detroit Lakes area and surrounding communities. Previous to Community Alliance Church serving as a drop-off site, people would have to take their boxes directly to Moorhead.

Of the total number that ships out from Moorhead, the Detroit Lakes area provides over 10 percent of those boxes, she said.

Storsved takes the boxes to Moorhead, which are then taken by semi-truck to Minneapolis, where the boxes are screened for customs and repacked to ensure there are no unwanted contents. That could mean inappropriate toys (like plastic guns, for example) or candy that can melt and make a mess in the box.

From there, they are shipped all over the world. This year, Storsved said the packages from Minneapolis will likely go to places in Albania, Brazil, Bolivia, Haiti, Niger, Kenya, Malaysia, Rwanda, Uganda, Columbia and Surinam.

She said it's interesting because the boxes are shipped by plane and boat and then carried by elephant, cars, bikes, etc., depending on the country where they are delivered.

"It's just amazing to see the operation they've got going there," she said.

The organization asks for a $7 donation per box to help defray shipping costs, but Storsved said that shouldn't deter someone from donating a box if they can't afford the shipping as well. There are corporate sponsors who provide donations for those situations.

Shafer, for example, said she can't afford the $1,400 to go with her boxes, but that's not stopping her from donating them.

"Don't let the $7 (shipping cost) prevent you from doing one," Storsved said.

Those who go online to to pay for the shipping, though, can then track where their package is delivered.

The five-state area that includes Minnesota is hoping to collect 320,000 shoeboxes, and overall, Operation Christmas Child is hoping to hit the 100-million mark in boxes collected and distributed.

"It's just before Thanksgiving and most people don't think about the Christmas season starting until after Thanksgiving, but you're kind of in that thankful mood and reflecting on what you have and what you're grateful for," Storsved said.

It's a nice project to take part in as a family, she added, to be able to have the kids pick out what they would like to give other children.

"It really sets the Christmas spirit," she said. "It's neat because it puts my children's perspective where they appreciate what they have, so they don't always get the 'give-mes' on their Christmas list -- at least to begin with," she added with a laugh.

Storsved said she and her family have been packing boxes to donate since even before she was coordinator at Community Alliance Church.

"My children really loved doing it because it's something simple, not too expensive, and yet you're making a big, big difference for children who have nothing," she said.

Suggestions for the box contents include hygiene products, hard candy, toys and other items. A list can be found on the Samarian's Purse website as well.

Shafer said that hearing the stories of the children receiving the boxes, or seeing pictures of their excitement when they get them, it makes her want to keep doing it for years to come.

"It's been fun. The older you get, you've got to do something," she said.

"It's a nice way to kick off the Christmas season a little early," Storsved added.

Shoeboxes can be dropped off at Community Alliance Church, Nov. 12-18. Hours for drop-off are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, and Sunday from 1 to 2 p.m.

Anyone with questions can contact Julie Storsved at 218-841-1769.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.