Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the Operation Christmas Child program expects to collect another 9.8 million shoe box gifts for children in 2013. National Collection Week for filled shoe boxes is set for Nov. 18-25. Contributed photo.
With Christmas less than three months away, no doubt shoppers already are starting to make their lists and check them twice in anticipation of all those Black Friday doorbuster sales.
Scouring the stores for good deals on everything from children’s clothing to Matchbox cars and packs of crayons is a year-round effort for David Warren and his wife, Vicki, who have been filling shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child for nearly 20 years.
“It’s really easy, it’s fun to do, and what’s kind of fun
for us is finding the deals,” said David Warren, who now serves as network coordinator for Operation Christmas
Child efforts in the Tri-Cities. “We do this all year. Whenever we go into Walmart or somewhere, we always scour the kids departments for clearance items, so it’s fun.”
Since 1993, Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse ministry has collected and delivered upwards of 100 million gift-filled shoe boxes to needy children in more than 130 countries through its Operation Christmas Child program, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Operation Christmas Child expects to collect another 9.8 million shoe box gifts in 2013.
Warren said he hopes 32,000 of those shoe boxes will come from the Tri-Cities area, which held a kickoff celebration Sept. 14 at the Crown Center Food City in Kingsport. Participants received Operation Christmas Child promotional materials, shoe box packing tips and information on where they can drop off their filled boxes during National Collection Week, set for Nov. 18-25.
It’s Warren’s job to oversee those drop-off points, or relay centers as they’re called, as well as the collection centers the shoe boxes are then delivered to before they are shipped by tractor-trailer to one of Operation Christmas Child’s processing centers, the closest of which is at Samaritan’s Purse’s headquarters in Boone, N.C. That’s where the boxes are inspected and crated for their journey overseas.
“I guess I kind of wrangle the relay centers and collection centers together, and recruit new relay centers and collection centers, and try to just make the area work as far as making it convenient for people to participate. ... What we have found is the more relay centers we have in strategic places, the more boxes we collect. It’s got to be convenient for people to drop boxes off,” Warren said.
A list of local relay centers, along with their hours of operation, will be available on the Samaritan’s Purse website beginning Oct. 4.
Donors who visit the website can also pay the suggested $7 shipping fee per box online and get a printable barcode that will allow them to find out the country where their shoe box gift is delivered.
“You can also go online and actually build your own box,” Warren said. “If you aren’t able to go shop or it’s a last-minute kind of thing, you can go online and do what’s called build a box. You build it online, pay for it online and off it goes.”
The cost to build a box online is $30.
For those who choose to fill their boxes themselves, the guidelines are the same as in years past. Use an empty standard-size shoe box or small plastic container. (If you wrap the box, be sure to wrap the lid separately). Decide whether your box will be for a boy or a girl and what age child you’d like your box to go to — ages 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14.
“The older kids, the 10-14 group, are kind of the ones who get left out the most, especially the boys,” Warren said.
Print out the appropriate boy/girl label by downloading it from the OCC website. Mark the correct age category on the label, and tape the label to the top of your box.
Next comes the fun part. Fill your box with age-appropriate gifts, such as pens, pencils, crayons, paper and other school supplies; small toys, including stuffed animals or dolls, cars, harmonicas, yo-yos and jump ropes; hygiene items, including toothbrushes and toothpaste, bar soap, washcloths, combs and hair accessories; and other assorted items such as T-shirts, socks, caps, sunglasses, toy jewelry and flashlights with extra batteries.
If you include your name and address, the child who receives your box may write back.
“To us it’s just basic items, socks, T-shirts, little things like that mean a lot, but what really makes a difference we have found out are school supplies — pencils and paper and things, because those things are so expensive, and if kids do not have those basic items, sometimes they’re not allowed to attend school, so that can make a difference between a kid getting an education or not,” Warren said. “I always like to get a big enough box, usually one of the plastic boxes you can get at the dollar store because they can reuse those boxes for things, then pack those school supplies, pack them some clothing items, then I always like to put hard candy in there and some sort of plaything or toy. They love bright colors. If you’re doing it for little kids, they love stuffed animals, and of course, little boys like trucks and cars.”
Do not include used items; toy guns, knives or military figures; chocolate or food; out-of-date candy; liquids or lotions; medications or vitamins; breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers; aerosol cans or money.
Each shoe box recipient also receives materials for “The Greatest Journey,” a 12-lesson discipleship program printed in the local language.
“It is a Christian ministry, spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, and over and over again, we see and hear reports of not just the child, but it changes the whole family,” Warren said of Operation Christmas Child. “It changes whole neighborhoods and communities sometimes.
“I remember seeing a video last year of a child who received a box and he went through the Greatest Journey discipleship program that goes with each box, then he accepted Christ. His family saw the change in his life. He was being pressured by other kids to join gangs, and he didn’t, so they saw him and how he changed his life and it changed that whole village. They built a church in that village, so that was really impressive. It does make an impact. ... The box is a key to open that door to making an eternal difference.”
For more information, visit www.samaritanspurse.org.