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A Christmas tradition that stretched across the world

Five years ago, the Thomas Family of Pagosa Springs joined millions of other caring families by filling shoeboxes with gifts for Operation Christmas Child (OCC).

Since then, they have enjoyed carrying on the tradition every year. OCC is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, which gives relief aid in war-torn or impoverished nations, and disaster areas. Last year almost 8 million shoeboxes were filled with toys, hygiene items, school supplies, clothes or shoes, and candy, and were distributed to 75 countries around the globe through Operation Christmas Child.

Nathan, Katrina, and their three children love to fill the shoeboxes because it gives them a very tangible way to reach out to other children around the world. OCC gives them a bigger picture of why giving is much more important than getting, especially during the holidays.

Every year their children each fills a shoebox for a child of the same gender and similar age. According to Katrina, “They get to pick out what goes into the box — if they see something and say, ‘That’s really cool!’ then chances are the item would be a good choice for the box! We also like to include a picture of our family and a note from the child who packed the box. We haven’t gotten a reply back yet, but someday we might.”

The family enjoys doing their annual OCC outing to fill the shoeboxes. They note that it provides a great learning experience on many levels. The children contribute some of their own earned money to the project, they have to stay within their budget, follow the OCC guidelines, pick things that will fit, and maybe most importantly — pick for the shoebox and not for themselves! And as an extra bonus, they get some great family time!

As parents, the Thomases say that OCC is another way to teach their kids about the real needs of other children around the world. Through Operation Christmas Child, the Thomas children are learning the value of giving, about cultures around the world, and even a little math.

“When our kids think they need yet another toy to add to their vast collection, they are encouraged to think about the other children getting the OCC shoeboxes,” Katrina remarked. “Then perhaps they realize they can do with less and give more.”

This year, the Thomas family plans to fill four shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child — one for each of their children and including the baby who will arrive next February.

If you would like to fill a shoebox or two for Operation Christmas Child, pick up a brochure at Alco along with a plastic shoebox (or use a regular shoebox from home).

Boy Scout Troop 807 will also be handing out 50 red and green shoeboxes with a sock doll included on Oct. 24 at the West Pagosa City Market, starting at 9:45 a.m. Collection of the boxes will begin Nov. 16 and end Nov. 22 at Mountain Heights Baptist Church on Park Avenue.

For more information, call Nancy Burke at 731-5901.