Kaitlyn Borchers of Red Deer is on a mission to help Syrian refugees coming to Central Alberta and will be filling shoeboxes with items for for them when they arrive.

Kaitlyn Borchers of Red Deer is on a mission to help Syrian refugees coming to Central Alberta and will be filling shoeboxes with items for for them when they arrive.

Shoebox campaign aims to give refugee children a chance to be children

Fourteen-year-old Kaitlyn Borchers wants to help Syrian child refugees reclaim their childhoods in Red Deer.

Fourteen-year-old Kaitlyn Borchers wants to help Syrian child refugees reclaim their childhoods in Red Deer.

The Grade 9 student at St. Francis of Assisi School has launched a campaign to fill shoe boxes with toys and personal effects for the Syrian children being resettled here.

Given the televised images she’s seen of serious-looking kids in refugee camps, Borchers is hoping to lighten their outlook with a fun welcome-to-Red Deer gift.

“I want them to have an opportunity to just be children,” she explained.

Several shoe companies are turning over empty boxes to her Operation Welcome to Canada campaign. And these are being filled by Borchers, her classmates, as well as students at four other Red Deer Catholic schools, with small items, including toys, scarves, tuques, and arts and craft supplies.

Borchers, whose mother works with English as a Second Language students, had helped fill charitable shoe boxes for African children in need, and thought “this would be a good idea to do here.”

She ran her idea by a couple of workers for Catholic Social Services, the agency that’s resettling Syrian families in Red Deer, and was told it was a worthwhile venture.

“It’s always nice to have toys for the children,” said Remza Mujezinovic, program supervisor for Catholic Social Services. “We feel it’s a great idea, if there’s a little something for the kids…”

So far, 13 Syrian families have arrived in Red Deer and more are expected. Their children range from babies to 18-year-olds.

There’s been an outpouring of calls from people asking what they can do to assist Syrian newcomers. Mujezinovic’s agency has been accepting donations of household items — but not clothing — in a limited storage space. Donated bedding, dishes, pots, pans and cleaning supplies are being distributed to Red Deer’s newest citizens.

Although toys are not among the items the agency is accepting directly, Mujezinovic said she’s glad that young people in Red Deer are thinking of others and taking on the shoebox project to help welcome incoming Syrian children and youths.

Borchers’ Operation Welcome to Canada charity is also accepting cheques from donors. For more information, or to donate, please visit www.rdcrs.ca/schools/our-schools. Borchers can be emailed at opwelcome2can@gmail.com.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com