Countywide : Presents Still Wanted for Bosnian Children

Inside an Irvine warehouse, brightly colored gift boxes zoom along a makeshift assembly line as workers check to make sure each holds the right mix of items: crayons and other toys, as well as necessities such as soap, toothpaste and shoes, all heading for young war victims in Bosnia.

Amid the bustle, volunteer Grace Johnson paused for a moment to look at a hand-drawn picture of a family's dog that was included inside a box that contained a sweater, a flashlight and batteries, candy and other items.

"Some of these boxes are really touching," Johnson said. "They've been put together with a lot of love and really come from the heart."

The warehouse is one of several collection centers across the United States that are part of "Operation Christmas Child," a three-year-old program to help suffering children in war-torn Bosnia and other troubled spots such as Rwanda.

Coordinating the effort is Samaritan's Purse, a Christian organization based in Boone, N.C., and headed by Franklin Graham, son of televangelist Billy Graham.

The group encourages givers to leave a message of hope and a photograph inside the box and, if they desire, a home address.

"We had lots of children write back last year," said Ron Case, a Riverside pastor who will be traveling to Bosnia next week to help with distribution.

Last year, the group gathered nearly 100,000 toy-filled gift boxes and this year expects to deliver 500,000--enough to stretch 94 miles if laid end to end, officials said. The Irvine collection center has prepared about 65,000 boxes so far and expects to do at least 20,000 more.

In addition to the individual boxes collected from churches, schools, civic clubs and other groups, the organization has received large donations from clothing companies and other corporations. Those donations allow workers to add a pair of shoes, earmuffs or a warm headband if a gift box comes into the collection center looking somewhat sparse.

On Wednesday, the wrapped boxes--some as small as shoe boxes--will be loaded onto an Antonov 124, one of the world's largest planes, at the Long Beach Municipal Airport.

The plane will collect boxes from other parts of the United States before heading to Eastern Europe.

Truck convoys in Bosnia will then carry the gifts to city squares, schools, hospitals and orphanages in both heavily populated and remote areas, officials said.

Volunteers will be accepting gift boxes at the warehouse, 2152 Alton Parkway, Unit 29, today and Monday. Information: (714) 752-5916.

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