It’s the time of year to give thanks – and give away some of your many blessings. Southeast Alaska residents have been doing just that.
More than 24-hundred children’s Christmas boxes are headed around the world from Southeast Alaska as part of Operation Christmas Child.
Juneau is the collection point for the shoeboxes packed by Southeast residents for Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization.
Tom Brice and his family packed seven shoe boxes this year, in what has become an annual family tradition.
“We tried to get a wide range of gifts for the young kids to the older kids, boys and girls,” he says. “My wife focused on the girls, me and boys focused on the younger boys.”
Samaritan’s Purse recommends shoeboxes be packed with age and gender-specific toys, school supplies, socks, t-shirts, ball caps, hygiene items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste – the list is long and varied. A few things are taboo, such as toy guns and military figures.
Colorful shoe-type boxes were stacked high Sunday at the Chapel by the Lake. Alaska Marine Lines brings the boxes to Juneau from all over the Panhandle. Brice headed up the effort this year, but has volunteered for Operation Christmas Child for six years.
“In that time, this is the largest number of shoeboxes that we received in Southeast and represents probably an 8 to 10 percent increase in contributions and shoeboxes over the past year,” Brice says. “Southeast really came through.”
Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian relief organization that has grown well beyond churches and into entire communities.
Brice says McDonalds donates toys, AML coordinates the shipping, Tyler Rental provides equipment on packing day. The Southeast boxes are headed for an Operation Christmas Child distribution center in California, then to children ages 2 to 14 somewhere around the globe.
“There’s a lot of relief organizations that are focused on basic food and commodities like that. Operation Christmas Child is very specifically focused on kids,” Brice says.
In years past, Southeast boxes have gone to Haiti, the Philippines, Africa, the Russian Far East, Slovakia, Romania, South America; Brice says it’s not known where this years will end up. It’s not too late to pack a box. Go to samaritanspurse.org.
Closer to home, the Salvation Army expects to serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to more than 500 people on Thansksgiving Day. The annual event will again be at the Hangar on the Wharf from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
The Salvation Army has held the community dinner at the popular restaurant for years. It’s not the only public Thanksgiving meal around town, but it’s sure to be the biggest. Captain Donald Warner says the organization can serve more people with fewer resources than by giving out food boxes.
“In other words, 50 turkeys would serve 50 families, whereas 50 turkeys at dinner would serve 500 people, which could be 120 / 140 families, so you more than double the amount of families you can serve by doing it that way,” he says.
Throughout the capital city, charities and churches have stepped up their collections for the holidays, helping the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, the Glory Hole and other organizations as well as individual families. Warner says the number of people seeking food boxes, clothing vouchers and other assistance from the Salvation Army has doubled in the last five months.
The Salvation Army begins taking applications on Friday to help families during the upcoming Christmas season. Warner expects at least 200 families to register.
“And then what we do is try to put them in the program that we think would best suits their needs, whether it’s Adopt a Family or Angel Tree or under general distribution.”
On Friday, normally the busiest shopping day of the year, the Salvation Army bell ringers will be out at Juneau stores. The money collected in the red pails stays in Juneau to meet local needs.
“Sometimes what we do is we’ll put it aside because during Christmas time is where most of the donations come in and during the summer time donations don’t come in as much,” Warner says. “So a lot of times what I try to do with that money from Christmas is to hold it for the summer so we can continue that level of service all the way through the year.”
He says in responding to need, people should get a hand up and not just a hand out.