Pastor Steve Schneider of Grace Christian Fellowship has recently returned from Senegal where he helped distribute boxes of supplies to needy children through the Samaritan’s Purse shoebox project. As he flipped through photos on his laptop computer, he commented on what he saw and what he experienced with enthusiasm that comes from traveling and meeting new people, but especially from the warmth that comes from giving to those less fortunate.
“The people there were so wonderful and beautiful, and there was so much joy even though they had very little,” says Schneider. “These shoeboxes were literally transforming lives. I was so moved to be a part of it.”
When Schneider moved to Creston with his wife and children three years ago, he had never heard of the shoebox project but now, with first-hand experience in western Africa, he has witnessed how this tangible and simple way to be involved helps the world’s needy. “I couldn’t fathom how much of an effect this would have on me. When I first volunteered to go, I was worried about the bugs and the food and what would happen, but I discovered the people were so warm and wonderful and not like what I had come to associate with the area from news on television.”
According to their website, Samaritan’s Purse provides aid to “victims of war, disease, poverty, famine and persecution, regardless of religious faith, gender or socio-economic standing.” Usually filled with toys and gifts, or school supplies and hygiene items, “it’s also really great when people include photos and letters and personalize the boxes,” says Schneider. “It’s a great way for families to come together and connect with people on the other side of the planet. I put together some boxes with my children. We picked up some boxes, shopped locally, and had fun choosing different items. When I was in Senegal, I was able to hand shoeboxes to children the same age as my children. These kids had no socks or pencils. Many of us have no idea how that feels. We forget how much we really have.”
The country of Senegal has a population of over 13 million, covering a land area of only 197,000 square kilometers (four-and-a-half times smaller than British Columbia). Over 70,000 shoeboxes were distributed in Senegal, but “the reality is that we only scratched the surface,” says Schneider. “We were only able to give boxes to about .001% of those that need them. There were kids climbing ten-foot high walls so they could get a shoebox, but we ran out so fast. We had to turn away lots of kids, and that was tough.”
Last year, the town of Creston contributed 200 shoeboxes to the Samaritan’s Purse. “I’d really like to see 300 this time around”, says Schneider. “I’ve seen such overwhelming generosity from Creston. For a lot of people here, thirty or forty dollars is not life changing, but for a child in Senegal it means the world. We can really change the world from our small town, and have such a positive impact. These boxes give us a way to overcome the terror and fear these people have experienced by showing love.”
Schneider remembers the look of pure joy in the faces of so many children when they opened their boxes. “A little can go such a long way,” says Schneider. “Some of these people were running for their lives and suddenly they now have shoes that fit, and a new toothbrush, and a warm scarf for when the weather gets cold. They need such simple things that we often take for granted.”
Those interested in taking part can pick up shoeboxes at Pharmasave, Extra Foods, Your Dollar Store with More, and various churches in the Creston Valley. Once filled, they’re to be dropped off at Activity Base (1126 Canyon Street) by the third week in November. Those looking for more information on what to purchase or to donate can find more information at packabox.ca