Students at Bench Elementary filled 68 shoeboxes with toys and gifts for children in other countries, surpassing the number of boxes they filled for Operation Christmas Child last year by over a dozen.

“Last year we did somewhere in the 50s, so we gave them a challenge to up it this year and they did,” Grades 2 and 3 teacher James Clark said.

Clark organized the initiative at Bench Elementary this year and said “it’s quite a contribution.”

Each student takes home a shoe box, which costs about $20 to fill, and in addition each student added a $7 donation as well, Clark said. That donation covers the transportation cost to the boxes’ ultimate destination in South America.

The boxes are being sent to the Nicola Valley Evangelical Free Church where they will be shipped to Calgary to be sorted through — ensuring no liquids, war toys or other inappropriate items are included — before being sent to other countries, Clark said.

Operation Christmas Child, a program put on by charity Samaritan’s Purse, delivers the boxes to countries that are war-torn or have been ravaged by natural disasters, such as Haiti or Somalia, to children who wouldn’t otherwise have any sort of Christmas experience.

The boxes are filled with items such as notebooks, pencils, tooth brushes and toys.

Every grade from kindergarten to Grade 7 participated in Operation Christmas Child at the school, he said.

“It was evenly spread through all the grades as well,” Clark said.

He said Bench Elementary is the only one of the Merritt’s elementary schools partaking in the program. The Samaritan’s Purse goal in Merritt is 500 boxes.