Although COVID-19 has presented challenges to shoebox packing, a woman passionate about helping less-fortunate children knew the need this year was greater than ever. 

Ina Reimer runs a shoebox drive out of the basement of her church, Landmark Fellowship Church in Landmark, Man.

"I first started putting together shoeboxes when I first heard of them," says Reimer.

Operation Christmas Child, an extension of Samaritans Purse, has been giving shoeboxes to less-fortunate children around the world since 1993.

Shortly after that is when Reimer started putting together multiple boxes each Christmas.  

"My aunt passed away and her daughters suggested that we could put extra shoeboxes together in her honour. She had done a lot of knitting for them. That was the early beginnings."

From there, Reimer asked churches in the area if they would be interested in joining her to put together more shoeboxes. 

"Landmark shoebox drive operates a little different than most areas do with shoeboxes with the fact that they can come and pick up articles and pay for them and in return, we can take that cash and repurchase for next year."

Reimer and a team of volunteers create a winter wonderland area in the Landmark Fellowship Church where items are laid out and people can come, pick things out, pay for them, then put together a shoebox. 

The church is open for people to pack shoeboxes on Tuesdays from 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. This year Reimer's team is running it from October 20 until November 21.

This way of packing a shoebox brings people together, saves half the cost of shipping the boxes as the Landmark team does it in bulk, and they offer homemade treats to round out the experience. 

"We offer apple cider and dainties just to make it a fun Christmas experience that people would want to come and do year after year."

This year with COVID, they are not offering apple cider, but do give wrapped cookies away. The drive has many guidelines in place, like social distancing and mask-wearing, to ensure people's safety.

Each box packed in Canada goes to the warehouse in Calgary first. This year, the countries benefitting from Canadian packed boxes will go to El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. 

Reimer has travelled with a team that handed out boxes to children a few years ago. 

"My mother, my daughter, and I went to Costa Rica and did several distributions on that trip," says Reimer.

From packing shoeboxes to then handing it to a child in need was an experience Reimer will never forget. 

"We've gone up to some of the high mountain areas close to Nicaragua and we saw the poorest of the poor. In these areas, there were some kids that had never seen white people."

The trip gave Reimer the fuel to continue running the shoebox drive.

"When you happen to sit beside a child who receives something [they've prayed for], it's a joy that we can't even understand," Reimer says, "because if we need something, we go out and purchase it."

Reimer says that the boxes are prayed over before they are sent out.

"When you watch the people who are carrying these boxes across bridges and rivers, by foot, by donkey, by camel, in such precarious situations and yet I've never heard of a box that was lost. That in itself is proof of God's hand on these boxes."

While Reimer doesn't know how long she is going to keep doing this, she doesn't ever want it to end. 

People can go to Landmark and put these shoeboxes together, or also put one together online.