ORRINGTON, Maine — For needy children living in countries such as Haiti, where an earthquake last January caused catastrophic damage, simple items like soap, shampoo and school supplies are priceless gifts.
Those items, as well as small toys, clothing and candy, are what go into shoe boxes packed by local volunteers as part of Operation Christmas Child, area director Pete Gorczok said Monday.
Volunteers in Orrington, the Operation Christmas Child drop-off spot for the region, collected a record 7,157 boxes in November, about 150 more than last year, from people all over the region.
“It’s just amazing. People have gotten behind this mission,” Gorczok said. “I’m really impressed.”
The Orrington collection center, one of four in the state, is at the Lighthouse Church of God, but donations come from all over the region with drop-off spots at churches in Millinocket, Dover-Foxcroft, Winterport, Blue Hill, Machias and Calais.
“My team is made up of a number of different congregations in the area,” Gorczok said.
Mainers donated about 30,000 boxes to the cause this year that were sent to Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization that provides spiritual and physical aid to victims of war, poverty, natural disasters and disease, he said.
The boxes, designed to be age- and gender-appropriate for children ages 2 to 14, already have left Maine for North Carolina, where a comic book Bible in the language of the needy child is added before they are sent to their final destinations in February.
It’s too late to submit a self-packed box, but those interested in giving still can go online to samaritanspurse.org and fill one virtually by making a $35 donation, Brooke Davis, spokeswoman for Samaritan’s Purse, said in a press release.
Each online box comes filled with soap, a washcloth, toothbrush and toothpaste, a hairbrush, pencils, crayons, pencil sharpener, coloring pad, notebook and candy, and donors pick from a list of toys — yo-yos, jump ropes, harmonicas and others — to finish packing the boxes.
Participants also get to add a note to the recipient and can track the box as it is shipped and hand-delivered to a child, the website states.
More than 8.5 million boxes were shipped last year to nearly 100 countries, with more than 5 million originating in the U.S. and the other 3 million from Australia and Europe, said Gorczok, who lives in Orrington with his wife and children. Thousands went to Haiti, he said.
“Items that we absolutely take for granted are a priceless gift to them,” Gorczok said.
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 with his family in 2006.
Gorczok went to the Dominican Republic with the 2009 shipment to hand out the gift-filled shoe boxes to children and returned a different man.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” he said. “You go thinking you are going to be helping people and you do, but there is no doubt that God blesses you.”