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Small Boxes, Big Hearts - Youngsters Benefit Through Holiday Drive
Escalon Relay Center coordinator Pam Elsholz, right, and volunteer Maybelle Abplanalp pack a few more shoeboxes into the larger box to prepare for shipping it out as part of the Operation Christmas Child effort. Last year, over 113 million shoebox gifts helped brighten the holidays for children in 157 countries. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Times

Jam packed, sealed, and ready to roll.

More than 850 shoeboxes of gifts were sent off from the Escalon Relay Center at the Covenant Church on Monday, bound for Manteca and then Huntington Beach, as part of the Operation Christmas Child effort.

From color crayons to hygiene items, new socks to small toys, the brightly colored shoeboxes were filled by local residents and delivered to the relay center over a several day period this month, culminating with the delivery to Manteca on Monday afternoon.

First year coordinator Pam Elsholz said she couldn’t have been happier with the 883 boxes collected at the Escalon Relay Center, which included some brought over by students from Riverbank High School that coordinated a drive there. Neighboring Oakdale, with a Relay Center of its own this year for the first time, brought in over 800 boxes as well.

“We had 18,811 boxes for San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties,” Elsholz said once all the counting was done on Monday evening.

Once taken to Huntington Beach, the boxes are bound for delivery across the country and around the world. Local boxes collected will be sent to four different countries, helping provide a little Christmas joy for children that might not otherwise receive anything.

And even at that, coordinators say, the boxes often fill basic needs, with soap, underwear, school supplies – things that children need but don’t always have. Age group-specific boxes, for boys and girls, were collected in three different age groups: 2- to 4-years-old, 5- to 9-years-old and 10- to 14-years old. This year’s collection outdid last year, officials said, with about 60 more shoeboxes filled and donated to the effort from Escalon and the surrounding communities.

West Coast region boxes for 2014 will be distributed in Nepal, Peru, Indonesia and the Philippines. Operation Christmas Child is part of the worldwide Samaritan’s Purse program.

Elsholz said she felt the effort ran smoothly this year, her first coordinating the drive, with the help and support she received from longtime coordinator Cheryl Degerman, who passed on her knowledge and was on hand throughout the campaign to assist whenever needed.

“I’m still learning each day,” Elsholz said as she and a small group of volunteers packed boxes on Friday. They were at 640 boxes on Thursday, with more than 200 additional boxes arriving over the final few days.

Elsholz is also planning to work at the larger Huntington Beach center, along with Degerman and two other Escalon volunteers, who will travel south for a three-day stay to help inspect the boxes and get them ready for overseas shipment. Also planning to make that trip are Janet Veldstra and Diana Dunn.


All in all, said Elsholz, the effort was a success, as the region came through for those in need.