Simple gifts: Operation Christmas Child in full swing

Rocklin headquarters coordinates highest number of donations on West Coast
By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Placer Herald correspondent
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Operation Christmas Child 
What: A fun and easy way to touch the lives of the most needy children around the world.
How: Fill a shoebox for a boy or girl with hygiene items, school supplies, small toys and an optional $7 shipping donation. (Hint: the most popular items are a toothbrush and toothpaste).
Where: Drop off your shoe box(es) between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at MRO Engineers, 2202 Plaza Drive. Donations are accepted year-round and businesses are encouraged to donate promotional items and leftover stock. The deadline for Christmas 2012 is Friday, Nov. 9.
Info: Visit for more drop-off locations and information.


If the best things come in small packages, then Rocklin engineer Ann Olson can hold Christmas in the palm of her hand.
As the owner of MRO Engineers and regional director of Operation Christmas Child, Olson is dedicated to delivering thousands of gift-filled shoeboxes to children living in desperate situations and the poorest communities around the world.
It’s a year-round volunteer effort that has some rooms in her 6,000 square-foot office building looking like an explosion of tiny toys and toothbrushes, but never mind the mess, because Olson is on a mission. The 10-county director trains volunteers, plans packing parties and runs the headquarters for the largest donation collection system on the West Coast. SMART Money Magazine has ranked Operation Christmas Child multiple times as America’s most efficiently run religious charity, giving simple gifts, such as children’s socks, school supplies and toothbrushes.
“You know, hands-down, the favorite item in a shoebox is a toothbrush,” said Olson, whose family donates upward of 1,000 boxes each year. “Let me assure you, my two children do not count as their greatest prized possession their toothbrush. So many children who have received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox have never ever received one present in their lives before. They will very likely never, ever, get a present again in their lives. How very cool for a child in Rocklin to understand that they’ve made that much of a difference in the life of another child.”
The Philippines, China, Mongolia and Peru are just a handful of countries where children who often live on less than $1 a day will receive a shoebox that transforms their lives forever.
Dr. Mark Arena of Blue Oak Dental in Rocklin and Roseville has treated children from impoverished countries and donated more than 120 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste. He also encourages his staff to donate gift-filled shoeboxes.
“I have a patient who teaches in Afghanistan and he visited about six months ago and brought about 15 children from Afghanistan with him,” Arena shared. “One of the girls had a major toothache and we did six fillings on her. One tooth had rotted down and was not savable. I mentioned it to her and she said, ‘Please, please can you take care of it here?’ and we did. And I know that she will always remember me her whole life. I would say to anybody out there, the reason why you contribute and help people who don’t have what you have is because you’re making a real difference and touching people’s lives.”
Taryn Day of Rocklin’s Blue Oak Dental and husband, Sean, a technical sergeant in the Air Force, encouraged their children to pick out items at Ross department store and fill up two shoeboxes for a boy and a girl.
“I think she’ll enjoy what we picked out,” said Kierstyn Day, 12, who wrote a letter to the girl who will receive her box. “We put washcloths in there and we gave them a lot, so more than one person in the family can use them. I gave her this little Victoria’s Secret dog. I also got her a shirt, sunglasses, socks, candy and my mom’s work donated toothbrushes and toothpaste. I think they’re going to feel happy, especially because they’re getting something from someone they don’t know.”
Sean Day packed up items a younger boy might enjoy, including some hard candy that will not melt in transit.
“I want him to enjoy the presents and be happy at Christmas,” the fifth-grader said.
While many folks may ponder over what to place in a shoebox, Jodi Church, OCC regional media relations coordinator, said it’s amazing how donations end up with the right child.
“In one story I heard, someone put in eight pairs of gloves and it turned out that the family who got the shoebox was in the fishing industry and where they work, the fishing rope can tear bare hands,” she said. “Children get the shoeboxes they should get.”
Two Ukrainian children who received Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes 10 years ago and were later adopted by American parents will present their story at Bayside of Placerville on Saturday. Svetlana, now 15, said her favorite gift was purple sunglasses and still refers to the shoebox as her “box of treasures.” Valentina, now 17, remembers treasuring every small gift in her box. Both sisters still wear the tiny bracelets they cherished a world away when they first opened their boxes as little girls.
Operation Christmas Child volunteers will be on hand at the Rocklin Dollar Tree on Lonetree Boulevard on Saturday, Oct. 27, to encourage shoppers to donate store items. Olson’s regional goal for Christmas 2012 is 50,000 shoeboxes.
“We gratefully accept donations such as leftover stock including baseballs, hats, pens, any kind of promotional item that can go in a shoebox,” she said. “I see so many families, so many businesses, so many churches involved. We are the world’s largest Christmas project.”