Samaritan Purse’s Operation Christmas Child program is simple; you could even say it is simple enough for a child. You take a box, pack it for the gender and age you choose, and they place it in the arms of a child. They call it The Power of a Simple Gift.
It’s easy to underestimate the impact of a shoebox of toys, school supplies and hygiene items until you start to hear the stories from the other side of the gift. There’s the little boy who prayed for something he could share with his parents and seven siblings. A pretty tall order when you are talking about blessing a family of ten with the contents of just one shoe box. But half a world away, someone tossed a sheath of toothbrushes from a dollar store into their shoebox: ten toothbrushes, enough for everyone, a prayer answered.
Then there’s the nine-year-old boy in a tropical climate who received a scarf and gloves. The volunteers distributing the boxes feared that box had “fail” all over it until the little boy burst out in screams of joy. He’s the one his family relies on to tend the fire, and the gloves were just what his little fingers needed for protection.
All in the family
Lora and Adam’s family have packed shoeboxes for almost ten years. “Each of my four children pack a box themselves where they choose the gender and age, pick out all the items, and we track the box. Having heard some of the stories of the incredible joy the children feel when they get the boxes, we always tuck in a handwritten note. We’re also a part of collaborative packing with our American Heritage Troop. We all contribute a couple dozen of an item and then mass pack the boxes. Last year our troop packed over 600 shoeboxes. Several years ago I started buying two of each toy, one for the box and one for my child. That way, every time they played with their toy, I wanted them to be reminded to pray for that child.”
Zenith volunteers all year long with events like a recent sandal collection where over a thousand pairs of sandals were donated. “After we heard about children wearing sandals made out of tires or old 2 litre bottles if they had them at all, we put shoes in as many boxes as we can. Thousands need to hear the word and by being frugal, I’m able to buy supplies for three times as many shoeboxes as before.”
Zenith’s mom has also become an integral part of Operation Christmas Child. A professional seamstress in her native Colombia, Rosalba speaks little English but is fluent in the language of love. When she heard that the children had nothing to carry the contents of their cardboard shoeboxes in or even their school books, she began sewing cinch sacks that could be tightly rolled and secured with a rubber band. She has transformed donations of hospital curtains, swatch books, sheets and fabric with zippers she buys at the flea market into thousands of tote bags and pencil cases for children around the world.
Paper or plastic
On Monday, November 16, the boxes will start to arrive at locations throughout our community. First they will be piles of dozens, then hundreds and by the final collection day Monday, November 23, thousands of shoeboxes. Each regular sized cardboard or plastic shoebox stuffed with hygiene items, toys, clothing, shoes — anything that can fit into a shoebox that will bring a smile to the face of a child. In areas of extreme need, sometimes a plastic shoebox is counted as one of the greatest gifts as it can be used to carry water, serve food or as a child’s special “treasure box.” (See a list of suggested and restricted items at SamaritansPurse.org/Operation-Christmas-Child)
From drop off locations at churches, businesses, schools and community centers, these tens of thousands of carefully packed, often brightly decorated boxes will be loaded into 18 wheelers bound for the Regional Processing Center in Atlanta. It’s there that hundreds of volunteers prepare them for their ultimate destination — the arms of a child.
As boxes packed in South Florida fan out around the world, the final leg of a box’s journey is often old-school and might include camels, bikes or mules. But even then, technology plays an integral part in Operation Christmas Child. If you are unable to pack a physical box, boxes can be “packed” completely online. With a $7/box donation online (to offset distribution costs), you can also print out a label that will allow you to track your box’s journey and discover its ultimate destination.
For a complete list of area drop-off locations including ReachFM’s studio, to volunteer and for more details on Operation Christmas Child, go to SamaritansPurse.org.
Global Chain of Love
If you have ever wondered what happens to your Operation Christmas Child (OCC) shoeboxes once they are loaded on to an 18-wheeler, you are not alone. It’s that curiosity that prompted Julia to volunteer at the OCC processing plant in Atlanta over Thanksgiving break several years ago along with her mother, Thalia. Here’s what they experienced.
What were some of your first impressions?
(Julia) It’s a warehouse as large as Costco filled with shoeboxes. When we arrived each morning, a huge map showed what countries we had already packed for and what countries we would pack for that day. At each table, we checked the boxes, taped them up, or placed them in the larger boxes for shipping. One of the best parts was that every so often, someone with a bullhorn would yell, “Stop!” and we would all grab the box we were working on and pray for the child who would receive it.
What were you checking the boxes for?
(Julia) The only time we took something out of a box was if it was candy that would melt or something breakable. They could not stress enough that they wanted it to be the original contents. They believed that everything in the box was prayed for and important.
(Thalia) They told us over and over not to remove anything, that we might not know why those items were included. It made me realize that rather than just making sure the boxes we pack are full, it’s more important to make sure they are full of treasures. Things like pictures and notes from us.
(Julia) One box had a paper where a little boy had painted his hand and it said, “Put your hand on mine and we can pray together.” Some of the volunteers received boxes when they were children and they had amazing stories of how God put just the right things in their box. One girl’s sister was sick and lost her twig doll so the little girl prayed her box would have a doll in it. It did and she was able to give it to her sister.
Another girl in the Ukraine was a couple months too old to receive a box but there was an extra one delivered to the orphanage. The children would re-use a notebook for four years, writing really small and erasing and re-erasing until it fell apart so she prayed for school supplies. When she opened the “extra” box, it was full of notebooks, pens, pencils, colored pencils and erasers!
What are some of the things that startled you?
(Thalia) Just walking into the warehouse had a huge impact on me. There was such organization and an incredible system in place to cover the world with these boxes. The Undisclosed Countries are ones where there is a great deal of persecution. I had secretly hoped to be assigned to pack for them so I was excited when out of the entire warehouse, our table was chosen. It was incredible to be able to pray that the people risking their lives to deliver or to receive these boxes would not be caught.
(Julia) One of the people at my table was checking a box that had a paper in it that I recognized from American Heritage Girls, one of the groups I had packed boxes with. Then I noticed that the person was from Boca Raton. I looked at it more closely and I realized this was a box that had been packed by Maggie, a friend I had known for years. It’s one thing to see a room at church piled with boxes but it’s hard to imagine the bigger picture until you see hundreds of thousands of boxes and realize one of the next pair of arms that will hold that box is the child. This might be the first or only gift that child ever receives.
Anitra Parmele is a writer for Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale and an on-air host for ReachFM. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.