Christmas came early as one Winnipegger is getting ready to drop off over 1,000 OCC shoeboxes this week.

Barbara Shumeley is a retired nurse who, with the help of her 'elves' and more, packed roughly 1,100 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child (OCC) this year.

"This past year really has been quite incredible, despite COVID," says Shumeley. "Having the storage unit has made such a huge difference."

Last year Shumeley packed just under 957 shoeboxes, but all of that was done out of her home. It was becoming too much for her and her husband, so she asked if someone was willing to donate space to hold all of the items throughout the year. 

"I was at the point of not being able to continue the project if I didn't have somewhere to be able to store all of the donations that we buy, create, and are donated. Then to actually pack them. We put the call out on CHVN, thank you, and Maggie O'Brien answered from Access Storage."

O'Brien said she would donate a year's worth of free storage at one of the units at Access Storage in Winnipeg, which meant Shumeley and her team could indeed continue packing as many shoeboxes as possible. 

Barbara Shumeley with a recent shoe purchase for her OCC shoeboxes.Barbara Shumeley with a recent shoe purchase for her OCC shoeboxes. (Supplied)

The space has been deemed 'Elf House' and Shumeley has roughly 10 regular 'elves' who help her pack, sew, and collect things throughout the year. 

Serena Klanreungsang is the new Regional Manager at Access Storage. Shumeley wasn't sure with a new manager coming on, if the space would continue to be available to her and her team. 

"On behalf of Access Storage, thank you Barb and your team for making Operation Christmas Child such a huge success," says Klanreungsang, who joined a video call with Sylvia St.Cyr and Shumeley. "This cause resonated with me as I heard of OCC growing up. I'm thankful that all of us at Access Storage are able to support such a great initiative."

During the call, on top of offering another year in the storage space, the new Regional Manager gave away more. 

"Access Storage would like to donate $1,000 to help you fill 25 more shoeboxes," said Klanreungsang. Shumeley replied immediately, "Did I hear correctly? Do you know how many I can fill with that money? I can do more than 25."

One item Shumeley always strives to add to a box is a reusable bag, as children often walk a far distance for their shoebox. Access Storage also donated 600 reusable shopping bags for these boxes. 

While Shumeley does purchase a lot of the items, finding things on sale after holidays, other items come to her in unique ways.

"One of the volunteers Linda started to help. At first, she said she didn't know how to craft. But guess what? She's been one of the key ones that made over 1,000 Christmas decorations. She went to the cottage and found volunteers there. One lady donated 500 cutlery packages, as we like to add reusable cutlery to the boxes and someone else sewed pencil cases. It's grown and grown."

Another woman from Shumeley's gym said she would be happy to sew boys' shorts and toques. She even had an orthodontist who donated 1,000 toothbrushes. 

"It's beyond heartwarming, it's just incredible. At the centre of it, we are always thinking about and imagining the child opening up the shoebox."

CHVN will be at the St.Vital Mall collecting packed shoeboxes for OCC from November 18 - 20.