By KAREN WELLS
LEWISPORTE — For Larry Sheppard, a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child, the chance to hand deliver the shoeboxes to children in Costa Rica was a real eye opener.
As a volunteer coordinator for the past number of years with the Samaritan’s Purse initiative — aimed at having residents and groups fill shoeboxes for less fortunate children around the world — Mr. Sheppard knew the program was a good one. Having the chance to see just what it means to the children receiving the shoeboxes further enforced that commitment to the project.
“I was more impressed with it than ever after seeing and experiencing this,” he said.
Along with a group of 30 other Canadians (he was the only Newfoundlander), Mr. Sheppard travelled to Costa Rica from April 19-26, a trip he financed with his own personal funds.
They assembled two groups to travel to villages — some remote — to deliver the shoeboxes to children at schools and churches. In many cases the children and their parents had to make quite a journey to get to the shoebox distribution point.
“One mother told the team she had rode two hours down the mountains on her bike with her child on the crossbars to make sure they got there,” said Mr. Sheppard.
While many of the children Mr. Sheppard met live in poverty, they also deal with issues of drugs, alcohol and child prostitution, sometimes involving children as young as age five. Ms. Sheppard noted that the children in the photos he supplied to The Pilot may look well dressed, but he said this was a special occasion and they made a point to try and look nice for the visitors. He noted that these “nice” clothes may be the only clothing they own of this quality, it is not the norm for them to wear.
As he was handing out the shoeboxes to the children ranging in age from two to 14, Mr. Sheppard said at times it was an overwhelming experience.
“They are so appreciative of everything they received,” he said. “I saw some shoeboxes opened containing everything from baseball gloves to clothing and hygiene items.
“They were showing everything to each other and their mothers. They didn’t just take things and cast them to the side because it was clothes or something like a toothbrush.”