Imagine, due to a life of poverty, that your child has never received a gift of any kind, not from you, your family, or from anyone. Now imagine your child’s face when a shoe box full of gifts is handed to him or her free of charge. Who would do such a selfless act? The answer is a volunteer for Operation Christmas Child. A branch of the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Christmas Child is the world’s largest Christmas project.
Operation Christmas Child became a part of Samaritan’s Purse in 1993 when Dave Cooke from Wales handed the project to the organization. Samaritan’s Purse is based out of Boone, North Carolina and, although founded in 1970 by Dr. Bob Pierce, the current president is Franklin Graham. The group’s purpose is, “to provide immediate, no-red-tape response to the physical and spiritual needs of individuals in crisis situations – especially in locations where few others are working.” According to its mission statement, the organization has helped meet the needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Fourteen countries take part in the giving of shoe boxes: the United States, Canada, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Approximately 8 million suffering children in more than 100 countries on six continents will receive these gift boxes. The recipients include children in Sudan, Russia, China and other war-torn and poverty-stricken countries. Several shoe box gifts have also been distributed in North America to Native American and Appalachian children. One such distribution took place in the Alaskan town of Hooper Bay. In August of 2006, the community was devastated by fire, and Samaritan’s Purse helped rebuild the town and handed out shoe boxes to those who lost everything. OCC has donated a total of 88,666 shoe boxes to need children living in the United States, but its focus is international missions.
Empty shoe boxes are packed year-round by compassionate individuals, families, schools, churches, civic clubs and other organizations in all 50 states and 14 countries. Even U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have all packed an Operation Christmas Child shoe box with gifts for needy children.
Each OCC brochure includes shoe box labels, and donors can choose if they would like the box to be sent to boy or girl. Then they are to select the age of the recipient. The ages range from 2-14 years old. Also included in the brochure is a list of suggested gifts. Some of the items include school supplies, candy, hygiene items, family photos, notes of encouragement and yes, even shoes. Some of the volunteers’ favorite items include the following: dolls, small cars, washcloths and games.
After the boxes are brought from local drop off points, they are inspected at six warehouses across the United States. Next, they are shipped by cargo planes, trucks or sea containers to a variety of destinations. In the remote location of Zimbabwe, one local form of transportation has been used – elephants. Other colorful modes of transportation have included camels and dog sleds. By using “EZ Give,” the online giving option on the Samaritan’s Purse Web site, donors can follow their box to the destination country where the boxes are hand-delivered by church leaders in that particular country.
The coordinator for the Southeastern Pennsylvania area, Lynette Dallman, has been with the organization for 3 years. When asked what drew her to Operation Christmas Child with so many other charities to volunteer for, here’s what she said: “Operation Christmas Child impacts the lives of children and gives them hope. It lets them know someone out there loves them.” Lynette has traveled side by side these precious boxes on two occasions. First she traveled to Panama in Central America and then to Burkina Faso, West Africa. With a thrill in her voice, she recounts the exciting atmosphere. “I felt so honored to be handing out gifts that had been prepared for these children. Just to look into their eyes and give them that knowing smile, lets you know you care about them. Seeing them open their boxes, to hear delight in their laughter and to see their faces is such a joy.”
If you would like to be a part of this mission of giving, Samaritan’s Purse will be collecting gift-filled shoe boxes at more than 2,400 drop-off sites in all 50 states during National Collection Week, Nov. 14-21, 2011. To learn more visit http://www.samaritanspurse.org.
Originally printed in The Country Register, October 2010.