One couple have been on multiple OCC distribution trips, but on one to Africa they recall young children walking 16 hours for a surprise.

Dave Spelliscy and his wife Colleen have been on four distribution trips with Operation Christmas Child.

He is a connect volunteer who handles church relations in Saskatchewan year-round with Samaritans Purse for OCC. 

The couple started packing boxes 25 years ago when they're children were younger and continued on ever since. 

"We noticed one year when we were filling out the form for the donations that go with the box, there was a question on the form that said 'Would you like to go on a distribution trip and hand out boxes?' And the wife and I said 'Wow would we ever'."

Two years later they headed out on their first distribution trip.

First Trip - Costa Rica

"We went to one spot on a bus, they drove us up to a spot where the kids were to a three-quarter building. Most of the kids had never seen that many Caucasian people at once."

The Spelliscy's went with a team of 25 people. 

"They were really excited as they were told there was a special surprise coming and the kids thought we were the surprise."

Every day of the trip was packed with distribution and graduation ceremonies of kids who completed The Greatest Journey program. 

Second and Third Trips - Africa

"One thing we noticed there was the openness of the people in the country. They were friendly and giving."

On one of the trips to Africa, the couple went to Senegal. 

"We went to this community about a three-hour drive into the middle of nowhere. We had to postpone the event because there were some kids that weren't there yet."

Spelliscy remembers thinking that this may not have been planned too well with things running late before he found out the reason. 

"A group of about 35 kids from 3-13 years old with chaperones walked into the area. We found out that those kids left home around 3 o'clock in the morning. They walked for almost 8 hours just to get there."

Shoeboxes were handed out and they got a lunch, but they had to walk all the way back home. This was also before the children knew exactly what they were walking so far to get.

On another day during that trip, the group went to a compound where they were told that 600 kids would be there.

"We got off the bus and there wasn't a sound. We're thinking, where are all these children? He opened the gate and seated around the wall of the compound was 600 kids."

Spelliscy says they were quiet right up until the shoeboxes were handed out. Some kids handed out shoeboxes over the fence to their siblings or friends, grabbing frantically in case they ran out. 

"When it was all said and done, the Pastor said 'I know that looked chaotic but we handed out 653 boxes today. There was one box left.' 653 children that the Lord wanted to, got a box today."

It was a reminder that day for Spelliscy that God was in control and still is today. 

Kids in Senegal receiving OCC shoeboxes.Kids in Senegal receiving OCC shoeboxes. (Supplied)

Last Trip - Costa Rica

"A couple of little boys were saying they were most excited about a toothbrush in their box," he says.

Spelliscy says there were cool toys in their boxes like hot wheels and balls but that wasn't what they were thrilled with.

"Why would a 7 or 8-year-old boy be excited about a toothbrush? The teacher came over and explained that every morning when the children come to school, the first thing they have to do is brush their teeth. I have 23 students and one toothbrush."

He mentioned how that moment put everything into perspective for him and his wife.

When packing boxes, there is a unique item that the couple includes in every one, no matter the gender or age. 

"To the wife and I a must in every box is a stuffy of some sort. The boxes go to kids from 2-14 years of age. The younger kids absolutely love it."

Spelliscy shares that some people may think a stuffed animal wouldn't be a wanted item for older kids, but he has been surprised.

"Conversely, if you pack it and a 12 or 13-year-old boy gets it, 90 per cent of the time that's the cherished item, a little teddy bear. If he doesn't use it, he has a little brother or sister to share it with."

Another great item for boys is a soccer ball with a pump, no matter where the children are from, according to Spelliscy. 

"We've been in Central America and West Africa. If you take a soccer ball out and kick it in the air, by the time it bounces, there are 40 kids there waiting to play the game."

Spelliscy encourages anyone who is interested to go on a distribution trip after the pandemic. 

"It will give you a view of things like you do not have right now. The wife and I worked in camp ministry for ten years but this was totally different."

As Collection Week wraps up, join CHVN between November 19-21, and help a child in need by dropping off a box or filling one out online here.