Gibbs' prep for Operation Christmas Child

ALGONQUIN – Don't mind all that activity spilling out of the Gibbs' garage.

Don't mind the music, the hot chocolate and cookies, the stacks of gifts. For the last 11 years, Christmas comes early at the Gibbs' house so that it can come at all in other parts of the world.

"It's a fun thing," said Julie Gibbs, the mom of the household at 311 Briarwood Lane, Algonquin. "My whole family has been involved."

The Gibbs' host a local collection site for a nationwide effort called Operation Christmas Child, which will hold its upcoming National Collection Week from Nov. 18 through Nov. 25.

Since 1993, people across the country have packed shoeboxes with small gifts, hygiene items and school supplies for children in more than 130 countries. Gifts collected in Algonquin will go to India, Zambia, Kenya and Madagascar.

The effort, run through the Christian relief and evangelism organization Samaritan's Purse, has sent more than 100 million boxes since its start. Often, they are the first gifts the children ever receive, the organization says.

Last year, 80,000 gifts were packed in the Chicago area. The organization has this year set a goal of 3,400 for the Algonquin site, which feeds into a larger packing center in Grayslake.

"The goal is out of Grayslake, they would load up 26,000," said Serena Butler, spokeswoman for Samaritan's Purse.

That means things will likely be hectic again at the Gibbs household.

"The week before Thanksgiving, the streets get very congested," Gibbs said.

But that's how the family likes it. Julie's son, 17-year-old Jonathan, was in the womb when Julie sent off her first shoebox, dedicated in his name. Now he's all but taken the reins as the collection coordinator.

The event has a way of bringing families together, Gibbs said.

"It's a great learning tool for the children to understand the concept that these boxes are going to kids that most of the time don't receive a gift," she said. "To put a toothbrush in there, where our children would think, 'A toothbrush?'"