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A holiday tradition of giving

Husband and wife Benjamin Brown (left) and Htee Kee (second from right) are shown with their friend, P Thay (right), and children at their home in Worthington. The Karen refugees received packages through Operation Christmas Child while living at a camp in Thailand.

WORTHINGTON -- Htee Kee and her husband, Benjamin Brown, now live with their three children in a modest but comfortable house in Worthington. But growing up in a refugee camp in Thailand, Htee Kee remembers the wonderment of receiving a Christmas gift that came from the United States.

"People came to our camp, and they teach the Bible and sing, and they would have prizes for the children," recalled Htee Kee. "Every Christmas they would come."

"Every year they came to camp and brought things" that were divided among the children, agreed P Thay, another Karen refugee who now lives in Worthington with her three children.

Those "prizes" were shoebox gifts from Operation Christmas Child, a worldwide project of Samaritan's Purse, and they provided a bit of hope to people who had fled their homeland and spent a large chunk of their lives in the uncertainty of a camp. Htee Kee remembers boxes containing a doll, different toys, and most memorably to the now-grown women, candy.

"Every day we eat rice and vegetables there," she explained, so the candy was a special treat.

Hearing firsthand about receiving a shoebox gift is thrilling to Joyce Klosterbuer, who organizes the local Operation Christmas Child effort with Marian Hayenga at the American Reformed Church in Worthington. When the church got involved with the project in 1994, Klosterbuer never dreamed that someday recipients of the gifts would become Worthington residents.

"The first few years we did it through our Bible school," she explained. "It was such a small project at first. We had something like 20 boxes the first year, and we were so excited."

American Reformed Church now serves as a regional collection center for Operation Christmas Child, receiving and packing up shipments from eight relay centers.

"Last year, we had 7,149 shoeboxes on the truck," she said. "We're hoping to get more this year."

Through Operation Christmas Child, people in the United States and other countries fill boxes with school supplies, toys, necessity items and notes of encouragement that are sent to less-fortunate children around the world. The intent of the project is to "let hurting children know God loves them and they are not forgotten," according to an Operation Christmas Child fact sheet. This year, it is anticipated that a milestone will be reached: delivering shoeboxes to more than 100 million children since the project began in 1993.

People who are interested in packing a shoebox gift are encouraged to pick up a preprinted box during office hours at American Reformed Church. They will also receive a brochure and labels that specify whether the gift is for a boy or girl and the age for which the gift is appropriate. Alternately, people can use their own shoebox or a plastic shoe storage box with a lid and mark it for a boy or girl and the age. The plastic boxes are especially nice, Klosterbuer noted, because the recipient can store their personal items inside it.

Instructions for packing a box can be found online at

Gift ideas include small toys, school supplies, hygiene items, hard candy, practical apparel items, a personal note and a photo of your family. Something that may seem very basic to someone here can significantly impact the life of an impoverished child, Klosterbuer noted.

"In some countries, they can't go to school unless they have paper and pencil, so that's quite important in some countries," she said. "In one country where (Samaritan's Purse missionaries) were for a week working with the children, they had no idea of personal hygiene, so they brought nail clippers along and showed them how to use them. It's the things we take for granted."

But it's also important to include a few more frivolous items.

"You have to put fun things in, too," Klosterbuer added. "You could tell (in talking to Htee Kee) that the doll was something that was important to her. ... It's nice for them to have something special to hang on to."

The official Operation Christmas Child collection is set for Nov. 12-19. Shoebox gifts can be dropped off at American Reformed Church, 1720 N. Burlington, from 10 a.m. to & p.m. Nov. 12-17 and noon to 6 p.m. on Nov. 18.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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