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Charity aims to help children in need

October 19, 2006

For many children, Christmas signals the arrival of Santa Claus and the promise of shiny new presents. But for those living in impoverished areas around the world, the idea of receiving a gift is almost impossible to imagine.

The fourth annual Operation Christmas Child charitable drive on the UW-River Falls campus is aimed toward bringing a little holiday cheer to children in need.

The purpose of the campaign is to collect toys, school supplies, toiletries and other non-perishable items. Gathered into shoeboxes, the items will be sent as Christmas gifts to poverty-stricken children ages 2-14 all over the globe.

Cultural Awareness Through Talking and Sharing (CATTS) has joined forces with the Native American Council (NAC) to organize and promote the drive, which runs until Nov. 13.
CATTS Co-President Carol Xiong said while everybody on the UW-RF campus is free to contribute, student participation is especially desired.

“We’re trying to do a student effort here,” Xiong said. “We’re trying to get the students involved.”

Donation boxes have been placed in all of the residence halls, the Davee Library, the Student Center, Rodli Commons, North and South Halls, and Career Services for students to leave contributions, Xiong said.

A box has also been placed at Freeman Drug Store, 104 S. Main St., for people in River Falls who wish to help out.
Monetary donations of $7 are also being accepted. The amount covers the shipping and handling charges of each shoebox, Xiong said. Envelopes are located at every donation site.

This campus crusade is just a small part of a larger worldwide effort.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse. According to the mission statement on its Web site, Samaritan’s Purse is “a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world.” 

International Operation Christmas Child collection efforts last year yielded more than 7.6 million shoeboxes, which were sent to children in 95 countries, according to the Web site.

In addition to providing hope to millions of disadvantaged children worldwide, Operation Christmas Child acts as a mission for spreading the word of Jesus Christ.

Along with the shoebox gifts, children are given Gospel booklets in their own languages, the Web site said.
CATTS and NAC advisor Linda Alvarez said the project’s Christian affiliation is not the main reason for the student organizations’ participation.

“[The affiliation] was less important to the [organizations] than the other aspects of the program, which is clean water, literacy, food distribution, and AIDS and reproductive education,” she said.

Xiong said she believes the religious aspect of the project is a good thing, but that it shouldn’t deter students from getting involved.

“It doesn’t require anyone to be Christian to help these children,” Xiong said.

CATTS held its first Operation Christmas Child drive on the UW-RF campus in 2003.  Efforts were coordinated by previous Co-President Micaela Rodriguez, who had participated in the program at her high school, Alvarez said.

The discovery that a CATTS member had benefited from the program as a child helped to inspire the group’s involvement.

The member, former UW-RF student Zer Vang, received a shoebox gift during his stay in a Thai refugee resettlement camp, Alvarez said.

“[Zer] really sort of impacted the group because it was the first time he had ever gotten a present in his life,” she said.

“But more than that,” Alvarez said, “[Zer] found it absolutely incredible that someone on the other side of the planet would be interested in what was happening to him.” 

The campaign that first year was a success, with more than 400 shoeboxes collected, she said.

Due to the overwhelming response to the inaugural effort, CATTS decided to make the project a yearly affair.

The NAC has come on board to help with the 2006 drive.
NAC President Trista Maulson said the group decided to join the effort because members thought it was a worthy cause.

“The reason why we want to get involved is because we want to show that we care, not just as an organization but as a campus,” Maulson said. “It’s not something that we have to do, but it’s something that we really want to do.”

Invitations have been sent to all of the residence halls and student organizations on campus for wrapping parties on Nov. 13 and 14, she said.

The parties will take place in the Multicultural Student Programming Center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on both days.
Shoeboxes will be filled with the items gathered from the donation boxes, then wrapped and delivered to the Operation Christmas Child distribution center in Woodbury, Minn., Alvarez said.

Donations of shoeboxes, wrapping paper, Scotch tape, paper tissue and large rubber bands are being accepted for the parties, she said.

When asked whether they would contribute, UW-RF students gave positive responses.

Freshman Dorian Strother said he plans to give because he feels empathy for the children’s plight.

“I can see the situation they’re in,” Strother said. “I’ve been blessed enough to have gifts.”

Sophomore Zach Mast said he agrees with the drive’s mission.

“I think it’s a good thing to do — providing presents for people that don’t get that much in other countries,” he said.

Mast also said he thinks donating is something his fellow students can afford to do, citing dollar store purchases as cheap and effective ways of contributing.

Sophomore Jasmine Engler said she likes that the drive is taking place on campus, which makes it easier for her to “seek out.”

“A lot of us don’t have the transportation necessary to go to a different charity,” she said.  “Whereas with [the drive], we can simply go and find cheaper toys and still give within our price range.”

Maulson said she believes in the importance of people everywhere having a happy holiday season.

“Everyone deserves a good Christmas, whether you’re here in the United States or you’re across the world,” Maulson said.