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Kicking Horse students participate in Operation Christmas Child

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RONAN — It was a chance meeting that brought Kicking Horse Job Corps nursing student Elsa Fissehaye and Hamilton resident Karla West together on an flight to Denver this spring. It was no coincidence that the two kind-hearted individuals stayed in contact after the flight, and worked together with other Kicking Horse students to make sure more than 40 children in developing countries around the world will have a Christmas gift this year. 

West’s flight to Denver was one leg of a longer journey to Africa. Fissehaye’s family is originally from Africa and it sparked her attention. West told Fissehaye about her work as area church relations coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, a program of the Christian non-profit Samaritan’s Purse. The program sends shoeboxes with Scripture, toys, hygienic materials and more to impoverished children in 130 countries. 

“Elsa told me that she would like to see if I could do a presentation to the students (at Kicking Horse),” West said. “I remember her saying that she would like the students to graduate with a sense of gratitude. I knew she would have no problem getting the administration on board if she worded it that way.” 

Still, West was a little surprised when the she received a call so quickly from Fissehaye. 

“I had no more than landed in New York and Elsa was on the phone saying I could come,” West said. 

At the beginning of October West gave her presentation to the students. 

“They just immediately wanted to help,” West said. “They kept coming up and asking what they could put in their boxes. Everyone wanted to pitch in.” 

Fissehaye said she hopes the boxes make a difference to the children that receive them. 

“I hope that they will be happy,” Fissehaye said. “I hope it will change their lives and give them hope.” 

Fellow nursing student Sharheya Coleman has a mother who was a missionary in Peru and wants to send boxes to help spread her faith. 

“I think it’s a good way to reach out to other people in the world, and spread the good news because I’m a Christian,” Coleman said. 

Students packed their boxes by picking up an item or two every time they went to the store. 

Pharmacy tech instructor Tracy Morigeau Frank said the student’s dedication to the project says a lot about their character. The students receive free room and board at Kicking Horse center, but get only $25 every two weeks to buy hygienic and personal items.

“I don’t think people realize that for them to go out of their way to do this says a lot about their hearts,” Morigeau Frank said. 

Peanut Fleenor, who brought Operation Christmas Child to Montana in 1994, had tears in her eyes when she first saw the boxes.

“It’s so beautiful it just makes me want to cry,” Fleenor said. 

The boxes will join 4,000 or 5,000 others that are gathered from western Montana and shipped for free by Watkins and Shepard motor company to Denver. 

Fleenor said in other states, organizations have to pay for the boxes to be shipped. 

“We’ve never had to pay in Montana,” Fleenor said. “It’s the only state in the Union that does this.” 

From Denver, the boxes are shipped to children in different parts of the world, many of whom have never received a gift. Some children don’t know how or why they are supposed to open the boxes, according to volunteer Donna Brown. 

“When children open these boxes they have hope,” Brown said. “They realize someone who they’ve never met cares enough to be willing to send them a gift and love.” Since 1994, 100 million shoeboxes have been delivered to children through the program.

Fissehaye and Coleman graduated from the Kicking Horse nursing assistant program and headed home to Denver last weekend. They said they hope Kicking Horse students continue to participate in Operation Christmas Child in the future. 

To find out more about Operation Christmas Child visit 

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