News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 10, 2013

A boxful of care for children

Operation Christmas Child spreads holiday cheer to local children

TERRE HAUTE — A shoebox may seem like a small thing to give someone. But to children in poverty-strickened areas, the gifts inside can make the world a brighter place, and let the children know that someone, somewhere, is thinking about them.

That’s why individuals and churches throughout the Wabash Valley have joined the Operation Christian Church project to collect shoeboxes filled with toys, school supplies, hygiene items and notes of encouragement.

Close to 6,000 gift-filled shoeboxes are expected to be prepared during National Collection Week – which runs from Monday, Nov. 18 through Monday, Nov. 25 – and taken to one of six “relay centers” in the area.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, and international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Operation Christmas Child, and some area churches have been participating for several years.

“It’s just a great way to come together in the community and share the spirit of Christmas,” said Mandy Slater, relay coordinator at Brazil Union United Methodist Church. “In years past at our church, we’ve had the congregation go out and get shoe boxes and fill them to bring them to church. This year, we changed it up so that each month, from January to October, they got something different. Now, on Nov. 22, our youth group will come in and have a packing party, so the kids go around and pick up one of everything to put into a shoebox. They will  mark it for a boy or a girl, and according to age bracket.”

Those kind of packing parties have become popular for many churches and groups that participate in the project.

“Our church really enjoys it,” said Cindy Hart at Oregon Baptist Church south of Terre Haute. “It helps us get in the Christmas spirit, and all our youth enjoy it.”

The Operation Christmas Child webpages – located at www.SamaritansPurse.org – contain information on what to pack and what not to pack in the shoeboxes. The gift suggestions include toys such as dolls, toy trucks, stuffed animals, kazoos, harmonicas, yo-yos, jump ropes, balls, and toys that light up and make noise (with extra batteries, of course).

School supplies include pens, pencils and sharpeners, crayons or markers, stamps and ink pad sets, writing pads or paper, solar calculators, coloring and picture books. Hygiene items include toothbrushes, mild bar soap in a plastic bag, combs, and washclothes. Accessories include T-shirts, socks, ball caps, sunglasses, hair clips, toys jewelry, watches, and flashlights with extra batteries.

Those packing the shoebox may also include a personal note to a child and a photo of themselves and their family.

Things not to include are used or damaged items, war-related items such as toy guns, knives or military figures, chocolate or food, out-of-date candy, liquids or lotions, medications or vitamins, breakable items such as snowglobes or glass containers, and aerosol cans.

The shoeboxes should be average size, and may be wrapped if the lid is wrapped separately. Labels are available on the website to identify if the box is for a boy or a girl and what age is appropriate – ages 2 to 4 years, ages 5 to 9 years, and ages 10 to 14 years.

Each box should also include a $7 donation to defray shipping and delivery costs. The donation can be made online, which will provide a bar code that will allow each box to be tracked so that the sender knows where each shoebox ends up.

Slater said that the Brazil congregation gathered 739 shoeboxes last year. That filled 60 larger cartons that were then taken to the collection center location in Rockville.

Ronna Bemis, worship minister at Rockville Christian Church, told the Tribune-Star that Operation Christmas Child has become a huge project that her congregation enjoys.

Last year, the collection center received 4,831 shoeboxes total from congregations in Terre Haute, Brazil, Attica, Crawfordsville and Greencastle,  filling 310 cartons. Another 1,047 shoeboxes were dropped at the collection center itself, for a grand total of 5,878 shoeboxes and 375 total shipping cartons that were sent to Boone, N.C., for distribution worldwide.

This year’s collection at Rockville will occur on Nov. 24 and 25, with the loaded truck heading to North Carolina on Nov. 26.

Bemis said that she and some other Rockville church members went to one of the distribution centers in Charlotte, N.C., to volunteer with the processing of the shoeboxes.

“It is an amazing opportunity,” Bemis said of watching the net step in the process.

All of the work is done by volunteers, she said, many of whom take time off from work to give a few days for the effort.

Slater said her own children have learned to look for things throughout the year to include in their shoeboxes.

“I tell them to just think about what these shoeboxes means to boys and girls in other places who don’t get anything else for Christmas,” Slater said. “Getting the little shoebox just lights up these kids. We hear about whole families having to share one washcloth, so we send seven washclothes so they can have a clean one each day. Things that we take for granted here means the world to these kids.”

Faith Caldwell with Samaritan’s Purse said the project benefits not only the children receiving the shoeboxes, but the people preparing them.

“The best thing people get out of it is the knowledge that they are able to reach a child who may be without hope,” Caldwell said. “And, it lets a child know that they are loved.”

Operation Christmas Child has collected more than 103 million shoeboxes since 1993. Internationally, more than 9 million have been collected.

In 2012, Operation Christmas Child delivered more than 8.6 million shoeboxes to children in more than 100 countries including Ghana, Madagascar Romania and Papua New Guinea.

More than 3,500 collection sites are set up nationwide with 50 collection center in the United States.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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