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Boxes brim with Christmas cheer

Left to right, Maranatha Academy students Julia Adams, Grace VanderMeiden and Ashley Brown stack up shoeboxes full of gifts for children in need at the school, 4916 S. State Highway 35, Tuesday. The school is collecting Operation Christmas Child boxes through Monday. Maria Lockwood

Holiday giving is underway at Maranatha Academy.

It started Monday with a flood of shoeboxes filled with toys, hygiene items and school supplies. It ends Nov. 20 when the bounty travels on.

The school at 4916 S. State Highway 35 in the town of Superior has been an Operation Christmas Child drop-off site for the last seven years. Its students, however, have been collecting items and packing boxes to send to children in need for nearly two decades.

"It's kind of always been around," said senior Ashley Brown of the program.

About four years ago, they began helping organizer Connie Mack pack the shoeboxes into larger boxes for shipping

"We kind of have a heart for the shoeboxes, just really making sure our school can make that happen," Brown said.

The project shares joy with others, said junior Grace VanderMeiden.

"For us, getting a couple of Christmas gifts a year isn't a big deal, but for them, like, even getting a jump rope or something is a huge deal and will make their Christmas," she said.

"And there's always people in need," said junior Julia Adams.

The teens expected to spend every spare minute this week preparing the items for shipment.

It may be a record year. A total of 185 boxes were delivered Monday.

"Mondays we have nothing usually, so this is shocking," said administrative assistant Melissa Rugg.

Another 100 were expected Thursday in addition to daily drop-offs. They'll be packed into larger boxes and piled in towers in the school entryway. It's encouraging to see them stack up, Adams said.

"Every box you see you're like, 'That's going to go to a kid that really needs that,'" VanderMeiden said.

Last year, the students collected more than 700 shoeboxes. Those were delivered to a church in Duluth, than trucked to a distribution site in the Twin Cities.

"It's really cool this year because we have to opportunity to go down to the cities and help with checking out the boxes and making sure it's all good," VanderMeiden said.

From there, the gifts will travel overseas.

The shoebox program, run by Samaritan's Purse, reaches children in 100 different countries. Donors can find out exactly where their gifts go.

"So we're going to be doing that this year," Rugg said. "At least one box for each classroom, so we can be, 'Hey, our box ended up in Africa or India or whatever.'"

Maranatha students aim to add 70 boxes to the pile — one for each of the 55 people at the school, plus extras. They plan to pack in toys, bouncy balls, battery-operated cars, combs, washcloths, hair care items and even hard plastic cups.

The packages cannot contain toothpaste, candy or any liquids. Donors choose to fill a box for a boy or girl in one of three age categories — 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14.

Everyone is invited to fill up a shoebox, boot box or hard plastic box with items and bring it to the school from 1-4 p.m. today and Monday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday or 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

"One thing they also want to encourage is like sending a note from you and like a picture of yourself or your family, just so the kid knows who they're getting the box from, there's a personal connection there," VanderMeiden said.

Maranatha students have extra boxes available. The school can also accept unboxed items to add to boxes that aren't full to the brim.

The annual giving campaign is a lesson in geometry, time management, communication and empathy.

"You know it's going to go somewhere it's going to make an impact," Brown said. "The kids hear the Gospel with it ... it really does make a difference. It gives the translators and missionaries who are working in these countries a chance to engage and learn more about the kids."

Visit www.samaritanspurse.org for more information.

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