November 21, 2008
Question: In tough economic times, what can you get for six bucks?
Answer: A gallon and half of gas; a “value meal” and high cholesterol at a fast-food restaurant; a new release video rental.
Or a real $6 bargain: the joy of sending Jesus’ love packed in a shoebox as a Christmas gift.
Six dollars is about the average cost to fill an Operation Christmas Child shoebox that will be hand delivered to an impoverished child somewhere in the world. To date, in this fifth year of the program under the auspices of Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Christmas Child (OCC) has delivered a staggering 61 million shoeboxes filled with small gifts and necessities. As the world’s largest Christmas project, OCC hopes to deliver more than 8 million shoebox gifts this Christmas.
This year, new dynamics — increasing natural catastrophes, spreading warfare, famine, and the worldwide economic downturn — have both complicated efforts and expanded the outreach.
Shoeboxes of Hope in a Multitude of Catastrophes
Does it seem like there has been one natural disaster after another? It’s not your imagination, said Randy Riddle, director of domestic operations for OCC.
“Because of escalating disasters, the need has never been greater,” said Riddle. “We used to focus our relief efforts on one country, but this year, there have been more disasters than there have been in all the years (of distributing OCC shoeboxes) since the Southeast Asia tsunami. And in a disaster, the children are first to suffer.”
OCC shoeboxes often are received by children who often have lost everything — parents, home, country — and go a long way toward relieving their suffering. These children don’t need big, expensive gifts. Instead, shoeboxes filled with necessities — flip-flops, toothpaste and other hygiene items, school supplies — along with small toys, hard candies, personal touches, and perhaps the donor’s photo and a letter, are rays of hope in their dark world.
In previous years, children in 100 countries received Christmas shoebox gifts. A miniscule number of OCC shoeboxes are distributed stateside where many organizations, Angel Tree, Salvation Army, and other parachurch organizations, can fill the gap.
This year, China, Myanmar, Haiti, the Congo, Barbados, and others have been added to the list so the need is greater than ever before.
Volunteers from eleven western countries (United States, Canada, Australia, Austria, Germany, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and New Zealand) fill the shoeboxes. Then they are shipped to local pastors and volunteers who distribute the shoeboxes.
Alongside — but not inside — the shoeboxes is literature explaining the Gospel message of hope and love. Local pastors do share that God loves the child; however, no strings are attached. Children are not forced to convert to Christianity to receive their shoeboxes.
While there have been charges from some that OCC disguises its evangelistic intentions to donors, Riddle says, “We are very clear about who we are. On our literature and website, we are clear in our mission.”
Filling Shoeboxes with Prayers and Lemonade
With worldwide economic uncertainty, what does this year’s supply of filled shoeboxes look like? Will there be enough to fill the need?
“That has yet to be seen,” said Riddle. “Reports from the 2,500 drop-off locations indicate that Americans are still finding a way to give.”
When it comes to filling OCC shoeboxes, every box seems to have its own epic journey from beginning to end. Touching stories of ingenuity, enterprise, sacrifice, and faith abound.
One such story comes from Columbia, Ga. Lacking funds to fill shoeboxes for OCC, two little girls stirred together their own economic stimulus package with lemons and sugar. Setting up a lemonade stand in front of their local Wal-Mart, the girls not only made enough money to fill shoeboxes but also inspired their customers to fill some, too.
Another child prayed that God would help her fill four shoeboxes. From seemingly nowhere, a van arrived filled with new toys and shoebox items — enough to fill 25 boxes.
In North Carolina, a retired teacher hiked 477 miles from Jarman Gap near Waynesboro, Va., to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 40 days to encourage others to participate in OCC.
Communities hard-hit with hurricanes and storms have collected record numbers of shoeboxes. Just two years after Hurricane Katrina inflicted devastating losses on the people of Louisiana, residents rallied with renewed generosity by collecting 112,576 shoebox gifts — a state record.
Some families make packing OCC shoeboxes part of their Thanksgiving tradition or a landmark to signal the beginning of the Christmas season. For others, like Riddle’s own family, it is a year-round project. “Officially, we pack one shoebox per family member. But we collect items and little toys all year.”
One child said her yearly OCC buying and packing adventure sparks her imagination and compassion. “When I fill the shoebox, I like to think of the happy face of the (recipient) child when she unpacks each item I pack.”
Other American children, pampered and sheltered from the needs of others, find Third World poverty beyond imagination. Said one grandmother: “Once we got the shoebox packed, my granddaughter didn’t want to send it. She said, ‘Why don’t I just keep this shoebox in case Operation Christmas Child forgets to deliver one to me?’ She couldn’t comprehend that some children have nothing while she has so much.”
There are also many heartwarming stories of former recipients of OCC shoeboxes who now pack them to return the favor.
For the shoeboxes to complete their journey and reach the hands and hearts of waiting children, OCC uses whatever means necessary — truck, boat, plane, helicopter, donkey, and dogsled, even camel.
Although collection of OCC shoeboxes is underway, it is not too late for Crosswalk readers to participate. OCC collects shoeboxes year round. Go to http://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/OCC/ to locate a collection site.