In Ottumwa, students and parents receive a list at the beginning of the year telling them what they should get in order to start school. At one elementary school, the list includes, but is not limited to: 20 No. 2 pencils, two boxes of crayons, a dozen colored pencils, three dry-erase markers, eight regular magic markers, two glue sticks and one bottle of glue.
On the other hand, wrote Houfek, "for many poverty-stricken children, often a lack of basic supplies is what stands between them and attending school."
Russ agreed. He heard about a little girl overseas who couldn't meet the dress code to attend school. It required students to wear socks, a luxury item she did not own. He said the child received an "Operation Christmas Child" shoe box packed in the United States with school supplies — and socks.
"It's stories like that that get to your heart," Russ said. "For some kids, what we send them, it's all they have. That young man [from Eastern Europe] said he got a shoe box [from OCC] when he was about 13. He remembered thinking this is the first thing he'd ever gotten that was a gift, no strings attached."
Some donors, Russ said, put a photo of themselves in the box or a note.
"One lady at Northgate Alliance Church received three letters back," Russ said.
Though purchases of school supplies are best made right now, Russ said, shoe boxes will be shipped to Minnesota, the regional hub, in about three months. Every box needs a quick inspection.
"No 'war' toys. One country didn't want candy. Another didn't want mirrors" because of religious restrictions on graven images or idolatry. Russ said the non-denominational Samaritan's Purse is respectful of local requests.
"These boxes don't just go random around the world. There is some group that has requested them," he said.
Items to consider are No. 2 pencils, pencil sharpeners, solar calculators, crayons or markers, coloring or picture books, paper notebooks, and school clothes for kids 5-14 also make a good gift.
View the website www.samaritanspurse.org or call Roger Russ at 641-799-1810.
— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark