August might seem a little early to think about Christmas, but for Operation Christmas Child shoebox enthusiasts, it's a great time to stock up on school supplies, Dara Brensing, Operation Christmas Child Regional Manager, said.
Operation Christmas Child is an international organization. Shoeboxes filled with school supplies and toys and then delivered to needy children in 110 countries around the world.
Having a pencil can mean the difference between going to school or not for a child in a third world country Brensing said. If the child does not have his or her own supplies, they can't attend school.
"And school supplies are so cheap right now," Brensing said. "You pack more shoeboxes or get more in the shoeboxes."
Packing shoeboxes becomes a habit for many, Brensing said.
"People become addicted to filling shoeboxes year round."
Brensing has overseen five states for Operation Christmas Child, including Oklahoma, for 10 years. She describes Oklahomans as "very generous." The whole state sent 60,687 shoeboxes in 2012, she said. Chickasha donated over a thousand.
"Chickasha donated 1,290 shoeboxes in 2012." Last year, the organization sent a total of nine million shoeboxes.
And while it would seem like this would be enough for every child, Brensing said that there is always a need for more shoeboxes.
The living conditions in third world countries, Brensing said, are pretty bleak. Brensing has been to Uganda, where people live in huts without windows.
In spite of these conditions, Brensing said the mothers take a great amount of pride in making the sure the children are well scrubbed and dressed as best as they can be with what they have.
She said she has seen women with a child strapped to her chest, her back and watching after another while plowing a field, a field where she works, not a family owned field.
"These are people who deserve to be loved and cared for," she said.
Brensing has attended a shoebox giveaway in Uganda. She said that many of the children lift the lid and quickly close it because it's just that overwhelming for them. The mothers stand back with tears running down their faces.
Some of the kids will be more bold and open the boxes.
"They'll pull out an electric toothbrush and once they are shown what it's for they'll brush their teeth and everyone else's teeth around them," Brensing said.
"They are so loving and accepting," Brensing said. "The experience is humbling."
The idea behind the shoeboxes is to connect the child with a local church. The kids are invited to a party at the church to retrieve the boxes and are invited to come back. These churches help meet physical needs such as food as well as spiritual needs, Brensing said.
Shoeboxes should be standard size, no boot boxes. There are three age groups: ages 2 to 4, 5 to 9, 10 to 14 and these are divided into boy and girl. The items must be new and can include school supplies, toys and personal hygiene items. No liquids, breakable items or war-related items such as toy guns are allowed.
"Everywhere they look, these kids see people with guns," Brensing said. "Many have lost their parents due to war."
The collection time period is between Nov. 18 and 25 at First Christian Church in Chickasha. More details about the shoeboxes will be released as the November deadline approaches.