Operation Christmas Child: Sharing gifts with children far away
Published 5:58 am Tuesday, December 10, 2019
For many in society, the approaching Christmas season is a time of thanksgiving, praise and sharing gifts with others.
For more than two dozen years. a big part of that gift-giving has been Operation Christmas Child.
Originally a United Kingdom shoebox gift project started in 1990 by by Dave and Jill Cooke, the reach of that Wales-based program expanded three years later when it merged with Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to people around the world.
Today the number of shoebox gifts have gone from about 28,000 distributed in those early years to some 168 million children in more than 160 countries and territories around the world.
To reach all those children, the Operation Christmas Child Project partners with local churches and other organizations each year to help put these gifts together.
This year, as in the past, Manteo Baptist Church members participated in the program and the third week in November, the church served as a local drop-off point for Operation Christmas Child boxes making it one of nearly 5,000 such locations across the nation.
Many of the participants like Dan Storey readily recount how easy and fun packing a shoebox can be.
“I’m just the delivery driver,” said Storey. “My wife Lisa shops all year long and looks for bargains all year long. She also get a tracking label so she can follow the package and waits for the email to find out where it went.”
Although any average-size cardboard or plastic shoebox would do, preprinted shoe boxes were available for a girl or a boy in one of three age categories (2-4, 5-9 or 10-14) to be filled with about a dozen items such as a soccer ball with pump, stuffed animal and a number of fun toys, hygiene items and school supplies. According to Samaritan’s Purse, shoebox gifts are an excellent, tangible way to demonstrate God’s love to needy children around the world and for many of the children, the gift-filled box is the first gift they have ever received.
Families preparing shoeboxes are encouraged to include a personal note and photo and to pray for the child who will receive their gift.
At each drop-off location, volunteers check boxes for prohibited items like breakable items, aerosol cans, food and candy or war-related items such as toy guns, knives or military figures. Any used or damaged items are also removed.
The journey doesn’t end at a local drop-off location, so donations are needed to cover postage and transportation costs to the final destination country, which varies each year.
“I know how important these boxes are,” said Pat Cropper, a member of Kitty Hawk Baptist Church. “I used to do this in Bowling Green, Virginia.”
Sunday evening, November 24, Cropper and another volunteer dropped off 147 boxes from Kitty Hawk, which became part of the 708 loaded into a Resort Realty van and taken to Evangelical Methodist Church in Elizabeth City the next morning.
“We are excited to be able to help anybody in the community,” said Cathy Cole, director of rental operations for Resort Realty.
Pat Mouton, the central drop-off leader at Evangelical, said by Monday evening, November 25, 8,809 boxes had been collected from relay stations at Manteo, Sunbury, Barco, Ahoskie, Edenton, Windsor and Plymouth.
According to Samaritan’s Purse, shoebox gifts will be shipped out to children in some of the hardest-to-reach countries around the world by the middle of December from processing centers in Boone, Charlotte, Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis or Orange County, Calif.
After receiving shoebox gifts, many boys and girls are invited to enroll in discipleship programs with local ministry partners. Depending on the distance they must travel, some shoeboxes are delivered by Christmas, while others may not clear customs in receiving countries until spring. In addition, when gifts must be transported to rural areas along poor road conditions, distributions could typically occur from late December through spring each year.
“Participating in Operation Christmas Child with all these brightly colored boxes that are filled and sent overseas is such a blessing,” said Manteo Baptist Church administrative assistant Lois Givans, “We may not give much thought to how they get there after they leave our hands, but I know they will be a blessing to the children that receive them.”