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Lifestyle // Good Neighbors
Christina O’Connor

René Morgan

Nathalie Walker photo nwalker@midweek.com

A few years ago, Kailua resident René Morgan had a very specific wish list for her birthday: She wanted party guests to bring shoeboxes filled with small items like toiletries and school supplies. Her guests obliged, and Morgan later donated the boxes to children in need throughout the world as a part of holiday outreach program Operation Christmas Child.

As the year-round Oahu coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, Morgan constantly is thinking about what she can do to increase donations of gift-filled shoeboxes.

“Our goal is to reach as many children as we can with the hope and joy of Christmas,” Morgan says.

This year, the project conducts its National Collection Week from Nov. 12 to 19 at 14 collection sites on Oahu where people can bring their packed shoeboxes. Boxes can include items such as pencils, notebooks, bar soap, wash clothes, toothbrushes, small toys and stuffed animals. Morgan also recommends donors include a note to the child and a photo of yourself.

“Our boxes go to kids who live in really desperate situations – kids who are victims of human trafficking, kids in a children’s prison, victims of war or terrorism,” Morgan says. “These kids don’t even have basic necessities.”

The project is run by international relief agency Samaritan’s Purse. The organization has delivered 94 million shoeboxes to children in about 150 countries since it launched in 1993. Samaritan’s Purse also coordinates its efforts with churches or other groups in the recipient countries to ensure that the gifts are going where they are needed most.

Locally, the project has expanded immensely. When Morgan first took over as coordinator a few years ago, the project generated about 8,000 donations. Morgan is credited with establishing a steady set of year-round volunteers, and last year, they brought in 32,000 boxes. Various schools around Oahu participate, along with about 50 community groups, including Boy Scouts, Rotary International and YMCA.

“I want people, on both the giving and receiving ends, to have their lives be touched,” Morgan says.

After all, Morgan says, the project has a big impact on those who make the donations, too.

“It gives people, and especially our kids, a total shift in looking at wants and looking at Christmas,” Morgan says. “They go from (saying), ‘I want this’ to ‘What can I give someone?’

“I have seen kids go into their own closets and pull out their favorite stuffed animals to donate,” she adds.

To find Operation Christmas Child drop-off locations and times, use the online ZIP code locator at samaritanspurse.org. For more information, call Rene at 561-4994.

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