Box by box, gifts go out

Church is collecting presents for thousands of children around the world

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter



How to donate a shoe box

• Where: First Evangelical Church, 4120 N.E. Saint Johns Road

• When: Today, 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.; Monday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

What to put in

• Toys: small cars, balls, dolls, stuffed animals, jump ropes, yo-yos, harmonicas

• School supplies: pens, pencils and sharpener, crayons or markers, stamps and ink pad sets, writing pads or paper, solar calculators, coloring books

• Hygiene items: toothbrush and toothpaste, mild bar soap, comb, washcloth

• Other: Flashlights (with extra batteries), t-shirts, socks, sunglasses, hair clips, toy jewelry, watches

• A personal note: In a separate envelope, you can include a note to the child and a photo of yourself or your family. (If you include your name and address the child may write back.)

photoOn Saturday, volunteer John Benson, 76, of the First Evangelical Church carries off gift-filled shoe boxes that will be distributed to needy children in 130 countries.

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photoA sign directs gift givers to the donation center at the back of First Evangelical on Saint Johns Road.

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Shoe boxes once filled with brand new kicks can hold gifts and school supplies for needy children around the world.

The First Evangelical Church on Saint Johns Road started accepting gift-filled shoe boxes last week and will keep collecting donations till Monday as part of Operation Christmas Child. Samaritan's Purse, a Christian relief and evangelism organization, started the program in 1993 and is hoping to reach its goal of donating the 100 millionth shoe box.

Nancy and Art Lemke have been volunteering with Operation Christmas Child for 16 years and head the Southwest Washington collections hosted at First Evangelical, where they're attending members. The church is a collection site for donations from as far as White Salmon or Longview, and Hood River or Milwaukie, Ore.

The shoe boxes contain small toys, hygiene items and school supplies for kids ages 2 to 14. Lemke said he was told a lot of kids in struggling countries can't go to school unless they have their own supplies.

"For a lot of kids, this is the only thing they get," Art Lemke said.

The church has hosted the collection for eight years. By Friday, they had gathered 3,789 boxes, with the biggest haul expected during today's service and on Monday, the last day to donate. Last year the church collected 11,644 boxes.

Youth Pastor Matt Perez will dedicate the boxes to the children receiving them at today's service.

"It's a big deal in our church, and it's a great missionary outreach," Lemke said.

In total, about 75 volunteers from the church help during the collection week. When a car pulls into the parking lot, the volunteers cheer and rush out the door.

"We've got one!"

As the volunteers head out to meet the donor, Nancy Lemke says: "Just don't scare them off."

Art Lemke said some Russian families, including members of the church, donate money or boxes after being on the receiving end when they were kids living in Russian orphanages.

Debra Scott, 54, of Vancouver, stopped by the church to drop of four gift-filled shoe boxes. She got her three grandkids involved in the charity. They collected money in a loose change jar to buy all the gifts and pay for shipping.

"I want to teach my grandkids that giving is what Christmas is about," Scott said.

Off to see the world

All of the donations collected at the church are packaged and put onto two trucks that head south to Huntington Beach, Calif., where they're processed and sent to 130 countries around the world. The boxes get into the arms of a child however they can -- by plane, train, car, boat or bike. Some donations stay in the U.S., going to children in need who live on Native American Indian reservations. Since the program started in 1993, a total of 97,932 shoe boxes have been donated to children on reservations.

Shoe boxes can get to child as last as April, Lemke said, because they can get stuck in customs.

Donors can get instructions for how to pack and donate a shoe box, as well as keep track of their box's whereabouts at

No time to pack one? Donors can order a shoe box gift or give money online.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513;;