While stories abound of locals helping out other less-fortunate locals during the Christmas season, not many have much to say about people, especially children living in Third World countries, but thanks to efforts such as those put forth by Operation Christmas Child, kids halfway around the world will be having a Merry Christmas as well.
“This is our third year in Rimbey doing it. It also was held two years prior to that with previous ambulance staff, so all together it’s five years now,” said Coordinator Aleshia Melanson of the Rimbey Ambulance Service. “Every year it seems to get bigger and bigger. People’s hearts go out, the boxes get bigger, supplies donated are a lot bigger so it’s wonderful to have this happen in this community.”
She said it brings a certain amount of satisfaction to herself and her co-workers knowing that even less-fortunate children a half a world away will still be getting a big surprise on Christmas morning.
“It makes us feel really good because we’re going to make all these kids around the world happy and that’s the best part,” Melanson said. “Normally they wouldn’t get gifts so they’ll be getting them this year, and that’s wonderful.”
From Rimbey, the boxes were transported to Calgary last Friday by ambulance where the local crew was joined by ambulances from all over central Alberta. Once there, they participated in a large parade through the outskirts of the city before sitting down to a meal and some visiting.
“It’s a big event – it’s huge. Paul Brandt has shown up and sung for us before, they feed us – it’s a great event and we get to see all those boxes being sent off to children throughout the world,” Melanson said. “At that point, there are thousands of boxes. Every ambulance in central Alberta pretty much gets involved as well so it’s coming from every community and you can’t believe the amount of boxes we see.”
She said last year approximately 350 boxes were donated in the Rimbey area – enough to fill the ambulance completely. From Calgary the boxes are then shipped to Toronto where they grow in numbers to well into the hundreds of thousands, possibly even a million, before being sent overseas.
“From there they get shipped off to the countries of need where they know the kids don’t get Christmas presents. Last year I believe a lot went to Indonesia but they also go to multiple countries, the poor, poor countries,” Melanson added “I know they’ve sent some to poor children in Iraq, but other than that, I can’t say exactly where they’ll end up.”
As for items inside the boxes, she said it varies from practical, useful items necessary for good grooming and health to fun stuff for kids like small toys and treats.
“We don’t actually open them. I pack my own boxes. You get a list of what we can send. You see T-shirts, touques, toothbrushes, lots of toys for kids, anything that they need in the way of necessities,” Melanson said. “Hair combs, toothpaste, school supplies like pens and books – everything you can imagine. There are rules of what you can and cannot send because of customs, but there’s a lot you can send.”
With this year’s campaign wrapped, she said thoughts are already set on next year’s Operation Christmas Child drive and even some charitable work a little closer to home.
“As soon as we finish for one year, we’re already thinking about the next,” she said. “We’re trying to see if there’s something else we can help out with like the local food bank maybe into the middle of next year so that they have supplies until then.”
In closing, Melanson said the entire effort would not have been possibly without the help of many in the community who ensured that the yuletide season will be bright for many more children.
“We really have to acknowledge everybody in town who has donated and given their time for this,” she said. “It’s so wonderful as these kids really need this stuff and you’re giving them a great Christmas.”