Filled with love
A shoebox may seem insignificant, but when filled with toys and other special items for a child overseas, it can embody hope and happiness.
That's the premise of Operation Christmas Child — a project of Samaritan's Purse International Relief. Now celebrating it's 20th year, the OCC ministry collects and distributes shoeboxes filled with gifts to children in more than 100 countries worldwide — particularly in areas afflicted by war, famine, poverty and disease.
"A lot of these kids, it's the only gift they've ever received or will ever receive," said Donna Smith, the local collections center coordinator for Operation Christmas Child. "To them, it's an amazing gift. They can't believe someone they don't know would care enough about them to send them these gifts."
Monday kicks off collection week for the ministry, which will continue through Monday, Nov. 25. The local collection point, Jonesboro Heights Baptist Church, has been named a relay point this year, Smith said, meaning the church will be responsible for getting its own donations, as well as donations from other area collection sites, to Charlotte for further distribution.
"It's a little more responsibility," Smith said, "and that responsibility comes because more people are participating."
Last year, more than 4,800 boxes were collected in Sanford — a community that Smith said "always knocks my socks off."
"Sanford is just extremely generous," she said, "and I look for them to come through again." With this being an anniversary year, she said she is hoping for even more participation, and the entire operation has set a goal of 9.8 million boxes.
To give, Smith explained, all someone must do is fill an ordinary shoebox with a variety of items — including school supplies, toiletries, small toys and other gifts like T-shirts, sunglasses, hair clips or flashlights. The donor should choose whether the box will be going to a boy or girl, and that child's age category (2-4, 5-9 or 10-14), and pack accordingly, she said.
War-related items, such as toy guns, knives and military figures, should not be included, OCC cautions, nor should breakable items, chocolate or food, liquids or lotions, medications or vitamins, or used or damaged items. Donors are encouraged to enclose a note to the child, and if they list their address, the child may write back.
Those who need a large number of boxes for a group can order them from http://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/. Once the box is prepared, the donor should place a rubber band around it and take it to the closest dropoff point — Jonesboro Heights Baptist for those in Sanford. An additional $7 donation per box is requested to cover the cost of shipping.
Even if they don't fill a shoebox, people can contribute to the ministry in many ways, according to Smith, such as donating funds or volunteering their time at the church. They can even build boxes online at the Samaritan's Purse website.
"Everybody can do something," Smith said, "and I think that appeals to people, too."
Smith said many of the items these children get, from notebooks to soap to toothbrushes, are often taken for granted in America, but they are precious commodities to a child in need. The operation's spiritual mission, she added, is even more meaningful.
"Every shoebox represents an opportunity for those kids to hear about Jesus Christ — many for the first time," Smith said. "Operation Christmas Child looks to minister to these kids, to give them hope and love."
The Operation Christmas Child collection schedule at Jonesboro Heights Baptist Church, 316 W. Main St., Sanford, is as follows:
Nov. 18 and 19: 2-6 p.m.
Nov. 20 and 21: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Nov. 22: 2-6 p.m.
Nov. 23: 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Nov. 24: 1-5 p.m.
Nov. 25: 8-11 a.m.
Those with questions can contact Smith at (919) 777-8786.