This week a group of volunteers is helping people pick items and pack shoeboxes in Grunthal, Man., to go out and bless children around the world.

Frieda Wiebe is the coordinator for the Pick and Pack Operation Christmas Child shoebox set up in the Grunthal Bergthaler Mennonite Church.

While this 'store' only runs for one week of the year, all year round Frieda finds appropriate items for shoeboxes and then purchases them.

"This is our third year. We've done the homework before we do the shopping, so we know what is acceptable and will make it through customs," says Wiebe.

This year they are running the Pick and Pack from November 2 to 7. During the week the church is open from 2-8 pm and on Saturday they will run the store from 10-2. 

"For the boys, we have soccer balls, pumps, tools, and lego sets, along with all the regular supplies like school and hygiene items. We've got sewing kits, clothes, and dolls. The possibilities have been amazing as to what we've been able to find throughout the year," says Wiebe.

She has been involved with the organization for decades now.

"I've been involved with Operation Christmas Child since their inception. We got the call the very first year they were packing boxes, to bring a few items to the church and somebody would pack them for us."

Over the years it's built into something else, involving more people and community. 

"I've enjoyed being able to coordinate what needs to be done."

A large group of children in a park hold up their shoeboxes

A Life-Changing Trip

In 2016, Wiebe went with a group on a trip to see where the boxes go and help deliver them. 

"I went to Uruguay and it was absolutely amazing to see what God was doing in that place through the shoeboxes. Because our team was a good size, we were fortunate enough that the international partner allowed us to see the whole process."

The group started in the warehouse in Uruguay and helped sort the boxes to be delivered to the churches. 

"Then later we went to the churches to distribute them to the children. It was amazing to see all the steps in the process and see how many steps there were."

Wiebe recalls recognizing the dire situation people lived in was when she went to South America. 

"The one town was a very impoverished community. We gave the boxes and this little grandmother comes, she holds my arm and says 'gracias, gracias, thank you for blessing my little children. You came all this way to show us that you care'."

Seeing that impact first-hand is something that Wiebe says she will never forget.

"One other place, a five-year-old boy had come to the distribution and got two boxes. His three-year-old brother didn't come."

The team walked this young boy home and was surprised by a few things. 

"There was a dirt floor in their house, a sheet that covered the front door, plastic in the windows and no electricity. The first thing this five-year-old boy did was take a toy car out of his box and let his brother play with it."

Wiebe saw another man whose whole life was impacted when he had received a shoebox many years earlier. 

"We met a man who had gotten a box when he was 14. He then followed the Greatest Journey program."

This program is available to any child who receives a shoebox from Samaritan's purse. It is a 12-lesson Bible study course guiding children through what it means to faithfully follow Jesus Christ. Once they complete it, children receive a Bible of their own.

"After, he began to hold Bible studies with other 14 and 15-year-old boys in his community. He's now in his early 30s and pastoring a church."

The snowball effect was evident when Wiebe met this man.

"It starts with a small box with what we would say is basically insignificant stuff. But we put it in God's hands and He multiplies it," she says.

Wiebe shares that on Monday, because of the restrictions with the pandemic, many people came to the church just to drop off money and asked if the team could put together the shoe box. They had middle school children from the community who came to put these boxes together. 

"These children are so excited that they get to pack shoeboxes. When you see 12-year-old girls and boys praying over a box, it's amazing. These children understand that this isn't just a present, but an eternal opportunity for these children to get to know Christ."

CHVN is partnering once again with OCC to collect shoeboxes at St. Vital Centre from Nov. 19-21. You can also pack a box online with CHVN here.

Three boys look up at the camera with their gifts. One boy has a very large smile