The organizers of Operation Christmas Child hope to reach a milestone this season by reaching their 1 millionth child. If they do, they’ll tackle the project the same way they always have: one shoe box at a time.
Operation Christmas Child is one of many charity projects organized by Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization dedicated to providing spiritual and physical aid to people in need worldwide. The organization was founded in 1970 and it has organized Operation Christmas Child for 20 years.
The concept is simple: Church and community groups from around the world get together for packing parties and fill shoe boxes with toys, school supplies and hygiene items for needy children. During National Collection Week, which is Nov. 18-25 this year, the gift boxes are collected at a central location and shipped to the charity’s home office for distribution. For many years, that location has been Life Springs Christian Church, 2075 E. Warm Springs Road.
“We have a packing party on Nov. 16 to jump-start it,” said Amanda Gardner, office administrator for the church. “Then we put the challenge out to our members and they pack their own boxes. We collect boxes from across the valley, put them into bigger boxes and then put those boxes in a truck for delivery.”
The packing party is scheduled from 8 a.m. to at least 2 p.m. in the gym at the church. Interested parties can drop in any time to help out and stay as long as they are able.
Individuals interested in packing their own shoe box for the project can find step-by-step directions at samaritanspurse.org. Participants must decide the age range and sex of the box recipient. The age categories for boxes are 2 to 4, 5 to 9 and 10 to 14. A $7 donation per box is suggested to pay for shipping and handling. There are eight stations where they can be dropped off, in addition to Life Springs Christian Church.
“You can also donate the shipping and handling money online and print up a label from the site,” said Brenda Meehan, local spokeswoman for the project. “That way you receive a notification when your box gets to its child and you’ll know what country it went to. Last year, mine went to Peru, which was special for me because I’d gone on a charity mission there.”
Suggested items include small toys, T-shirts, flashlights, hygiene items such as toothbrushes and soap. The boxes shouldn’t include war-related toys, food, liquids, used items, medications or breakable items. A longer list of suggestions is on the website.
“You should put at least one toy that the child can play with right away, like a stuffed animal or a toy truck,” Meehan said. “They need some of the other things but they want that.”
One other suggestion is a note to the recipient and a photo of the donor and his family.
“One year, our family received a letter from a child who lived on an island near Papua New Guinea,” said Jamie Padilla, a regular participant in the project. “She thanked us for the Barbie and told us she had a little sister, too, which meant a lot to my daughter, who was 5 at the time.”
Padilla and her family had already been involved in the project, sending out about 25 boxes that year, but the letter made it more personal for her, and she became one of the event’s local organizers, helping put together the packing party and other events.
Meehan said she plans Operation Christmas Child efforts year-round, picking up items to include when she sees them at a dollar store or similar venue.
“For a lot of children, it’s the only new things they’ll get in their life,” said Meehan. “It’s such a small thing for us to do, but it means so much to the children who the boxes go to.”
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at 702-380-4532 or firstname.lastname@example.org.