ORRINGTON, Maine — The shoe boxes are filled with soaps, shampoos, school supplies and maybe a small toy or clothing.
They’re put together by Mainers and others around the world for people less fortunate than themselves.
“These items that we absolutely take for granted are a priceless gift to them,” said Pete Gorczok, Orrington resident and area director of Operation Christmas Child.
The operation is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization that provides spiritual and physical aid to victims of war, poverty, natural disaster and disease, according to its Web site.
Gorczok was scheduled to board a plane at Bangor International Airport at 6 a.m. today for a trip to the Dominican Republic to hand out about 7,000 gift-filled shoe boxes to children ages 2 to 14. He should arrive at the Caribbean island nation later today and start delivering the boxes Tuesday.
Even the shoe boxes, which people in the United States typically throw away, are part of the gift, Gorczok said.
“They use that box for years,” he said. “They keep their stuff in it.”
The shoe boxes are actually filled in November and are shipped to locations around the world. Last year, 8 million boxes were shipped out to more than 100 countries, with approximately 5 million originating in the U.S. and the other 3 million from Australia and Europe, Gorczok said.
Locally, people from Millinocket, Dover-Foxcroft, Skowhegan and the Bangor area helped to fill more than one tractor-trailer with about 20,000 gift-filled shoe boxes, he said.
Because even the boxes are cherished by those who receive them, some of those who pack them have begun buying plastic containers from Wal-Mart, he said.
“Each family that donates a box kind of personalizes it,” Gorczok said. “Generally, it contains some sort of hygiene items and a toy. It’s age- and gender-appropriate, for ages 2 to 4, 5 to 9 and 10 to 14. Sometimes people include clothing.”
School items such as pencils and notebooks “are very big,” he said. “A lot of the time, [people who live in] these places don’t have the money to buy these types of things.”
Each box also includes a note from the family that put them together, and a comic book Bible in the language of the needy children.
Gorczok, a former U.S. Army pilot with 24 years of military experience, retired in 2004, then served on a mission in Acuna, Mexico, for a year and a half before moving to Maine.
He works for Casella in Hampden and has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for 10 years. This is the first time he’ll be able to see firsthand the reactions of the children opening the boxes.
“I’m very humbled and very excited about it,” he said. “It’s the final dimension of the program.”