100-year-old West Virginian Packs 100 Shoebox Gifts

November 3, 2017 • United States

Centenarian Ira Miller sends love to 100 children in need through Operation Christmas Child.

Ira holds the 100th shoebox in front of a colorful wall display of the 99 others he's packed.

Ira holds the 100th shoebox in front of a colorful wall display of the 99 others he’s packed.

Meeting Ira Miller, it’s difficult to tell he’s 100 years old. He says he feels about 70 and acts like it, too.

In addition to mowing his yard and collecting large round hay bales from his 250-acre farm with a tractor, he weaves baskets and packs Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts. In 2017 alone, he’s completed 100 of the gift-filled shoeboxes that will share God’s love with boys and girls worldwide.

The 61-year-resident of rural West Virginia started packing shoeboxes in March. During the past eight months, he packed most of the boxes full of toys, pencils, crayons, notebooks, and toothbrushes for 2- to 4-year-old boys.

But for the 100th box, four generations of his family gathered to pack a shoebox for a 10- to 14-year-old boy that contained items commemorating Ira’s life.

You Can Pack a Shoebox

They tucked a West Virginia-branded notebook and teddy bear in together with one of his woven pencil baskets and a toy school bus in honor of the 19 years Ira drove the bus for children in his area.

But Ira sees a shoebox gift as much more than a collection of toys and school supplies: “I hope [the children] are blessed and realize that God looks after them and that there’s still hope for them.”

Can’t Stop Working for the Lord

Ira’s not new to this Christmas project of Samaritan’s Purse. He first packed shoeboxes 10 to 12 years ago at the small church that he moved to West Virginia to plant more than half a century ago. The congregation normally does roughly 35 boxes a year. But last year, Ira did 21 by himself. With the help of his daughter, Debbie Welch, who lives just over the border in Maryland, he paid the suggested donation per shoebox online through Follow Your Box and learned his boxes went to various nations in Africa and South America.

Four generations gather to pack Ira’s 100th shoebox gift.

Four generations gather to pack Ira’s 100th shoebox gift.

“If I sat down and didn’t do nothing, I’d get old after a while,” Ira said.

“The Lord has blessed me and I still want to do something for the children who don’t know the Lord. I return all my thanks to Him.”

The idea to pack 100 boxes this year came after Ira’s family hosted a large party in January for his 100th birthday. Soon after, Ira got sick and was in the hospital for 17 days. After he recovered, Debbie, a year-round volunteer with Operation Christmas Child, sensed God gave her the idea to ask her dad to pack 100 shoebox gifts this year. Ira was quickly on board with doing that many in honor of his centennial.

“I want to do something for the children who don’t know the Lord.”

“These 100 boxes are going to 100 children around the world and they’re going to hear about Jesus,” Debbie said with gratitude.

“I just focus on giving God glory for His faithfulness that Dad can still be a missionary at 100.”

Encouraging the Family

Even before they are shipped around the world, Ira’s 100 shoebox gifts have already been a blessing to his own family. Four of Ira’s great-grandchildren live upstairs from him in the farmhouse that he’s resided in for 58 years. The oldest three have watched Ira pack and pray over these 100 shoeboxes.

(Left to right, front row:) Quinn (4) and Adler (3) Hansen. (Back row:) Hayes (3 months), Ryan, Ingrid (1), and Leah Hansen; Susan and David Miller; Ira Miller; Debbie and David Welch.

(Left to right, front row:) Quinn (4) and Adler (3) Hansen. (Back row:) Hayes (3 months), Ryan, Ingrid (1), and Leah Hansen; Susan and David Miller; Ira Miller; Debbie and David Welch.

Their mother Leah Hansen, said, “My grandfather has a love for others and has put his heart into packing these shoeboxes…My children, through watching [him], are realizing that these aren’t just toys, but each item has been prayed over and will hopefully help the child who receives it.”

Debbie herself has been encouraged this year as she’s gone through a journey with breast cancer. Her husband David Welch said, “Shoeboxes were part of her therapy.”

Debbie agreed: “[Knowing] that Dad wanted to pack 100 shoeboxes lifted me up.” She found bringing him items to fill shoeboxes so satisfying that one time as she left, she said, “I don’t feel like a cancer patient.”

Still Trucking

While you might not see most 100-year-olds packing shoebox gifts, Ira is not going to let age stop him. “As long as I breathe, I’m going to do something,” he said. “The Lord’s blessed me so I’m just going to keep on trucking.”

Ira Miller

Ira transports shoeboxes to his church in his 1931 Model A Ford.

Ira does this in part by transporting shoebox gifts to his church in his 1931 Model A Ford. He bought it 20 years ago sight unseen for $250. He restored it, but laughs that the muffler alone cost him $260. If he’d known Model A’s would hold their value so well, he would have kept the 1937 one he bought at age 20 for $32.

When Ira attended a Billy Graham crusade in the mid-1940s in Washington, D.C., he had no idea that he would be packing shoeboxes for the ministry his son, Franklin, leads 75 years later.

According to David Miller, Ira’s son, his father’s legacy is “his love for Christ.” That love is now going to extend to 100 children around the world—not to mention their families and their communities.

Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, works with local Christians in more than 100 countries to deliver gift-filled shoeboxes to children in need. The Greatest Journey is our 12-lesson follow-up discipleship course for children who have received shoebox gifts. 

You can be a part of this exciting international evangelistic outreach by prayerfully packing a gift-filled shoebox! Learn how to pack a shoebox. You can also volunteer at a processing center.

Enjoy a slideshow from our time with Ira below.

  • Ira has made his home in the beautiful foothills of the Allegheny Mountains.
    Ira has made his home in the beautiful foothills of the Allegheny Mountains.

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