Benefit Needy Children Worldwide Through Operation Christmas Child

Make a difference in the life of a child a world away with the gift of a shoebox.

Operation Christmas Child provides needy children across the world with shoeboxes filled with small toys, hygiene items, and school supplies. It’s the project of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian relief organization that provides aid internationally, including to Syrian refugees and more recently to those affected by hurricane damage.

According to their website, Operation Christmas Child has delivered 157 million boxes in 160 countries since 1993. Anyone can pack a shoebox and give it to a participating church or drop-off location in the area.

Christ Lutheran Church in Marshfield has been involved in Operation Christmas Child for about a decade, and has since become one of the larger suppliers in the area. Last year, they were able to send off 170 shoeboxes.

“We have tremendous support from our congregation,” said Tammy Schwartz, Director of Christian Education. “They love this ministry.”

Last year, a Sunday School “Penny War” raised enough money to cover the shipping cost of 30 shoeboxes. Items are donated throughout the year by members who spot good deals on items like toothbrushes and toys, which are then organized into an assembly line in early November for Junior High students to pack into shoeboxes. The students also have the chance to share a little about themselves via a note to the child who will receive the box.

The box can be the first gift the child has ever received, especially when the boxes end up in poverty-torn regions.

Schwartz recalled watching an Operation Christmas Child video which showed a small boy sitting on top of a pile of garbage, the place where he went every day to scavenge food for his family. “It made me cry because I thought how the simplest of things that we put in the shoeboxes means so much to these kids,” she said.

The material gesture of giving a shoebox works with the ministry side of Samaritan’s Purse. “Once they know how much you care, you can say there’s a Savior that cares about them so much more,” Schwartz said. “It’s a great way to share Jesus with these kids that have absolutely nothing.”

While it’s the goal of Operation Christmas Child to share the Gospel with children, recipients are not required or pressured to convert to Christianity. Those willing to learn more are invited to enroll in The Greatest Journey, a 12-step discipleship program. Donations can be made directly to this program.

“A friend of mine told me a long time ago: people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” said Schwartz. Her friend, while on mission in Africa, had the opportunity to help unload shoeboxes and hand them out personally to the children. “He said it was such an amazing experience.”

During National Collection Week November 12-19, the shoeboxes are loaded into vehicles and driven to a drop-off location in the area. Shoeboxes are then transferred to one of eight national processing centers, like Minneapolis. About 80,000 volunteers inspect the shoeboxes and prepare them for shipment, placing Gospel booklets in the child’s own language.

Shoeboxes travel via airplane and ship to countries all over the world, sometimes being carried on the backs of donkeys or carried on foot in order to reach remote destinations.

Donations are due Sun. Oct. 28 at Christ Lutheran. Online tutorials and gift suggestions are available online on the organization’s website, honed by a quarter century’s experience in packing shoeboxes. It’s also possible to build a shoebox through their website with a suggested donation of $25.

Samaritan’s Purse recommends starting with a “wow” item, like a soccer ball with pump, an outfit, or a stuffed animal. Following that, fill the rest of the box with small toys, as well as hygiene items and school supplies. This can include solar calculators, art supplies (markers, crayons, pencils, pencil sharpener, notebooks), combs, toothbrushes (but not toothpaste), toy instruments, wash cloths, and bars of soap.

The shipping fee for each box is $9. The fee covers collection, processing, and shipping costs to over 100 countries. Toothpaste and hard candy are no longer allowed due to changes in customs regulations. Used and war-related items should not be included, as well as food, chocolate, seeds, liquids or lotions, medications or vitamins, aerosol cans, or breakable items.

Choose whether the gift should go to a boy or girl and cut out the appropriate slip from the brochure (available online or at locations like Biggby Coffee or churches) and select one of the three age groups, 2-4, 5-9, 10-14. Best of all, you can find out which country your shoeboxes end up in by purchasing and printing off scannable Follow Your Box labels from the website. Wrap a shoebox (lid separate), use a small plastic container, or get a special shoebox from the website, and carefully tape the slip to the lid.

The slip is scanned during the process, and in a few months you will receive an email saying to which country it has gone. For more information on how to pack shoeboxes or to make a donation, visit the Samaritan’s Purse website.