A milestone gift and a young, enthusiastic shoe box ambassador cross the country to tell people how Operation Christmas Child communicates God’s great love to children around the world
National Collection Week may be over, but the journey of Operation Christmas Child’s 100 millionth shoe box gift has only just begun.
As millions of boxes were being brought to drop-off sites throughout the United States, 12-year-old Evilyn Pinnow was gathering items from around the country to add to the special gift that symbolizes the 100 millionth box collected since 1993. The simple box, wrapped in white paper and stamped with the handprints from Evilyn’s friends in The Shoebox Club in Fort Atkinson, Wis., began its journey last week.
So far, Pinnow has traveled more than 5,000 miles with the 100 millionth box, stopping at various shoe box packing parties along the way. With each stop, she spreads her passion for Operation Christmas Child.
“When I heard that OCC expected to collect the hundred millionth shoe box this year, I thought it would be cool to help encourage people to meet this milestone,” she explained at an annual packing party hosted by K-LOVE Radio and a local volunteer team in Sacramento, Ca.
More than 8,000 shoe box gifts were packed at the annual event, and year-round volunteer Ann Olson added a few meaningful items to the milestone gift.
“About 10 years ago with our family, my daughter was passionate about putting socks in boxes because she hates cold feet. So my first item is a pair of socks,” Olson said. “Art is so wonderful because it helps you express your creative side, so my next item is art supplies.”
The socks and art supplies joined some jump ropes that had been added by the hosts of a Milwaukee morning radio show at the first stop on Evilyn’s journey.
The quick stop in California was followed by a trip to Nashville, and a packing party at Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home in Brentwood. The home, one of six operated by the Tennessee Baptist Convention, offers support for children in difficult family situations. It was the perfect backdrop for Oksana Nelson to add a stuffed musical lamb to the box.
Nelson grew up in a Russian orphanage, so she empathizes with the children living at TBCH.
“I think packing a shoe box will help kids [at TBCH] feel like they’re contributing,” Nelson said. “When you’re in the position of always receiving and needing, you don’t always feel like you can do something to help someone else.”
About 20 residents of the children’s home chattered excitedly as they packed 200 shoe box gifts in the gym alongside a local 4-H club and high school football team.
Kelly Campbell, regional vice president of TBCH and director of the Brentwood campus, said that serving as a drop-off location for Operation Christmas Child and hosting a packing party “gives us an opportunity to reach out. We believe in the Gospel message, and want children around the world to hear the Gospel.”
When the last baby doll, bar of soap, and set of beads had been placed in a shoe box, Campbell and the packing party participants paid rapt attention as Nelson shared her story.
“When I was 9-years-old I received my first gift,” Nelson said, recalling the time Operation Christmas Child came to her orphanage. “It was the first time I ever felt special enough to be somebody in this life.”
As she placed a fuzzy musical lamb in the 100 millionth box, Nelson said that each item in a shoe box gift represents a hug and transfers the love of the giver to the child who receives it. The crowd gathered around as Evilyn asked God to bless the shoe box and the program that conveys His great love for children around the world.
“Dear Lord, thank you for a project that allows kids like me to give gifts to kids around the world,” she prayed.
The next day in Tupelo, Miss., another recipient whose life was touched by Operation Christmas Child contributed his own significant item to the 100 millionth gift. Renan Perdomo, now grown and living in Petal, Miss., was able to attend school in Honduras after he opened a shoe box gift filled with pencils, a notebook, crayons and scissors. Perdomo’s pencils joined the growing list of items and stories they represent.
Finally, Evilyn took the box to New York City, the stop that she looked forward to the most—other than actually handing the gift to its recipient in the Dominican Republic, of course.
In the city that never sleeps, she took the box on a whirlwind tour from sun-up to sun-down: The Today Show in Rockefeller Plaza, Times Square, a harbor cruise past the Statue of Liberty and under the Brooklyn Bridge, and finally, the headquarters of The Salvation Army for a packing party and concert by Matthew West.
Although she was impressed by New York’s towering buildings, she didn’t seem phased by meeting the well-known Christian recording artist backstage.
“I’m sorry, I’m in the middle of a candy thing,” she stated, matter-of-factly, as West introduced himself, setting the stage for the pair to joke together as they waited for the concert to begin.
“If you ever get in trouble, it seems like the fact that you have packed 2,000 shoe boxes kind of means you get a free pass,” West said, quickly adding, “This girl would never disappoint. She’s not disappointing these kids, is she?”
Evilyn didn’t disappoint the crowd of about 1,000 New Yorkers, either. West introduced her, and the crowd broke into raucous applause as she announced, “This is the 100 millionth shoe box!”
West, who has supported Operation Christmas Child for several years, added some “fancy hair bows” chosen by his daughters to the box.
“I haven’t really thought much about the holidays and this kind of starts it off for me,” West said. “A lot of times, we go on a missions trip or we do something kind for somebody else and we think it’s going to help that person. And then we’re surprised to find how God uses it to enrich our lives.”
Evilyn and the 100 millionth box will continue travelling over the next couple of weeks, enriching the lives of people along the way with her story of kids helping kids. She will return to Wisconsin before continuing to Huntington Beach, Ca.; Aurora, Co.; Bloomington, Minn.; Duluth, Ga.; Boone, N.C.; and Charlotte, N.C.
Finally, in December, she will hand deliver the special gift to a girl in the Dominican Republic.
More items and more unique stories will be added along the way, all for one purpose—to share the love of Jesus Christ through a simple gift—fulfilling Evilyn’s prayer to help the needy.
Evilyn summed up her motivation simply: “I think every kid should feel loved.”