GIFT BOXES: Fijian children receive their gift boxes from Operation Christmas Child in 2010. Photos supplied

CHRISTMAS is still far away for us here in the Eastern Bay, but so are some of the places Operation Christmas Child must reach.

For the past 15 years, a project run by Samaritans Purse International Relief and supported by five Eastern Bay churches has seen shoebox-sized Christmas boxes being filled with gifts for children around the world.

Eastern Bay co-ordinator Faye Garrood says the boxes are sent off to places where children “don’t even know what getting a present is”.

This project allows anyone to purchase a pre-printed shoebox, fill it with gifts for a girl or boy within one of three age groups and, for a $10 donation, have it distributed to children in another country.

Faye says people can also choose to decorate a shoebox they already have, though it needs to be the correct size. The $10 donation not only pays for sending the box, but also helps support the village they are sent to.

Co-ordinating this event in Whakatane is a new experience for Faye and her husband Chris.

Though they have been involved in the project since it first started, when they lived in Tokoroa, they were recently asked to take over co-ordinating it in the Eastern Bay.

In 2010, Faye and Chris were able to present some of the gifts in person during a visit to the Samaritan’s relief operation in Fiji.

Faye says they are excited to take over the role. She says thousands of volunteers are involved in the project which has been running since 1993. In 2018 Australia and New Zealand collected 293,852 boxes. From Whakatane, 600 boxes were sent last year.

These boxes can go to Fiji, Cambodia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea and other countries.

However, they must be sent before Labour Day, October 28.

The boxes come with a pamphlet providing ideas and instructions about filling the box.

Some items that don’t travel well are prohibited, such as items that spoil or leak, and items that can scare or harm a child such as Halloween or war related costumes, toy guns and knives are also prohibited.

The parcels go from here to Auckland for processing, checking and to be made ready for sea travel.

“When they arrive in the destination country, that is when the real work begins,” Faye says.

“In some cases canoes are the only way to the isolated places, then on human backs in packs to trek to the final place.”

Faye says it does not matter what religion the children belong to and whether they celebrate Christmas in their country.

“A small shoe box, filled, gives so much joy. Thousands of children get to receive our love in a box,” Faye says. “They get to know that they are not forgotten.”

Pre-printed boxes can be picked up from most Whakatane churches, from Professionals real estate agents in Whakatane or by contacting Faye on 0274 463629.