A simple comb, a gift from someone in another country, gave Alex Nsengimana something to hold onto in 1995 as a 7-year-old orphan in war-torn Rwanda.
âIt was the very first time I received a gift in my life,â he said. âOn one side there was a small pickaxe and on the other a brush. I kept it for three years. Everywhere I went, I had my hair comb in my pocket.
Today, as a 33-year-old North Carolina resident, he passes on this gift, encouraging Westmoreland County residents to prepare shoe boxes full of toys, school supplies and other necessities to hand out. to needy children aged 2 to 14 in developing countries through Operation Christmas Child’s annual charity campaign.
Recipient of a shoebox 26 years ago, Nsengimana is now spokesperson for the program. On Friday, he visited the campuses of Champion Christian School in Donegal and Indian Head, County Fayette.
“It is a passion for me, a vocation for me, to be an ambassador for children who have not yet received a gift that could change their life, as it has changed mine,” he said. declared.
Unity residents Tim and Betsy Kruel began packing shoe boxes in 1993 when the program began. Since then, Operation Christmas Child has provided care packages to more than 188 million children. The Kruel have moved from overseeing efforts in Westmoreland County to being regional coordinators in Westmoreland and six other counties.
They said their goal this year is to collect 12,501 shoeboxes in Westmoreland. âWe add the 1 at the end because we always want to reach one more child,â said Betsy Kruel, who is a semi-retired registered nurse at Redstone Highlands in Greensburg.
The official collection will take place November 15-22 at eight drop-off locations in Westmoreland. County shoe boxes will be collected at the Free Methodist Church in Greensburg, then trucked to be processed in Baltimore, before heading overseas.
Tim Kruel, an Uber driver, noted informally: âWe have already started collecting boxes. We simply store them with us.
Under pandemic conditions for the first time last year, the collection of shoeboxes continued unhindered. Betsy Kruel noted that the volunteers practiced social distancing, wore masks and, depending on the location, could step outside to accept boxes from donor vehicles.
She pointed out that shoeboxes have to go through customs, so items that are not allowed include food, liquids, candy, and any item with an expiration date. Also prohibited are all items with a camouflage pattern or military theme.
The most popular gifts are personal hygiene products and school supplies.
In 2013, the Kruel’s were able to deliver boxed gifts to children in the Philippines.
âIt was an amazing experience to see their joy,â said Betsy Kruel. She remembers a boy delighted to discover a bundle of pencils in his box: âHe grabbed them and threw them in the air and said to the whole children’s room, ‘Look, I have pencils. ‘ “
Without such gifts, she said, children “can use pencil tips and pass them around.”
Another boy was elated to receive gloves because the handlebars of his bike lacked grips to protect his hands from the hot metal.
With batteries in short supply in developing countries, Tim Kruel said, âAnything that runs on solar power is perfect, a calculator or a flashlight. “
âWe always like to include a ‘wow’ item, a stuffed animal or whatever they can put on right away, jewelry or sunglasses,â said Betsy Kruel. âWe love that the box is both exciting and useful. “
Tim Kruel included toy cars he made in his carpentry shop.
The shoebox program is run by Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational Christian organization that has provided aid to people around the world who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease or famine.
Children who receive the shoeboxes also receive a Christian Faith booklet and have the opportunity to participate in a 12-week Bible study program.
Betsy Kruel noted, âIt’s up to the kids to come to the awareness. “
Nsengimana’s life was shattered in 1994, when his grandmother and uncle were killed just yards from him – among hundreds of thousands of people massacred in a brutal tribal genocide that targeted Rwanda’s Tutsi minority. .
Nsengimana fled with other relatives, sometimes living in the hills and for a time in a refugee camp. He’s narrowly escaped death more than once, including when a man’s gun jammed while he had the boy in his sights.
Eventually, Nsengimana was placed in the overcrowded orphanage where, the following year, he received his shoebox.
With security restored and conditions significantly improved, he was able to return to Rwanda several times, visiting with his older sister. In 2017, he was able to help deliver shoe boxes to the same orphanage and, through a reconciliation process, met the imprisoned man who had killed his uncle.
âThese seeds that transformed my heart came in a small box that I received at the age of 7 who was living in an orphanage and without hope,â Nsengimana said. “That’s the kind of message we want kids to get when they receive a shoebox – to be reminded that they matter, that someone cares.”
To find local shoebox drop-off locations and times, visit samaritanspurse.org starting the first full week of October and select Operation Christmas Child under the heading âWhat we doâ. Visitors to the site can also donate and ask for volunteers to create and send a shoebox on their behalf.
They will also find guidelines on what items can be included in a box and a tool to track where the given box is located.