Every season is shoebox season
Millions of people take time every fall to carefully shop for and pack shoeboxes. These simple gifts bring great joy as children and their families learn about the true meaning of Christmas—the Good News of Jesus Christ.
However, Operation Christmas Child is not just reserved for Christmas. Churches and individuals creatively invest time year-round to see that good news and great joy are delivered to children in need around the world.
Palm Harbor United Methodist Church of Palm Harbor, Florida, packs thousands of shoeboxes annually in part because they budget for Operation Christmas Child all year. By allocating funds to that account every month, they can take advantage of shopping deals when they happen.
“We buy thousands when Walmart has crayons for a quarter or notebooks for 17 cents,” Missions Pastor Ron Evers said.Members of the church’s Operation Christmas Child team then store the items until the fall packing season.
“We have a four bedroom, three bath house and only one of the showers can you use because the others are filled with pencil sharpeners,” Evers said with a laugh.
With the collected gifts, the church is prepared to host shoebox packing parties for Sunday School classes and the local assisted living facility.
They do not, however, always wait until fall to fill shoeboxes. For the past two years, children who attended their summer Vacation Bible School raised money to help cover the expenses of the Operation Christmas Child gifts that they packed together at the end of the week. Last year they filled 552 shoeboxes complete with a personal note in each one.
At Musella Baptist Church in Musella, Georgia, the congregation of 150 varies how they approach Operation Christmas Child. Some years, they advertise for people to bring in items every month so the church can host a shoebox packing party in the fall. Other years, they invite people to bring in shoeboxes that they pack at home.
But every year, their key to building year-round involvement is the visibility of Operation Christmas Child’s global work.Thirteen-year-old Libby Robinson, who is in her fifth year of coordinating Operation Christmas Child at Musella Baptist, said, “When I show videos the church is very responsive. I’ll show one and the next Sunday there will be so much stuff brought in.”
The owner of the local dollar store has also told Libby, “If you need anything for Operation Christmas Child, just give me a list.” When they near fall and assess what items they still need to fill shoeboxes, they can contact this business to fill in the gaps. Libby said she appreciates the help and hopes to contact more businesses for their support of this project.
Libby has advice for others considering getting involved with Operation Christmas Child year-round.
“Pray about it. The Samaritan’s Purse website has a lot of materials to help. And talk to people,” she said. “People are always willing to help, you just have to ask.”
Nearly four years ago, Jessica Burns started Clip With Purpose, a blog designed to help people pack as many Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes as possible. All year long she highlights deals at national stores and features craft ideas for shoebox gifts.
Burns started by sharing the information with friends but now the blog has grown to 60,000 page views a month and its corresponding Facebook page has almost 6,000 followers.
Christmas clearance sales where items can be purchased for 90 percent off are a hit.
“People always get really excited when they can find a Barbie for under a dollar,” she said.
A veterinarian, Burns spends an average of two hours a day on the blog.
“It’s really fun to stay involved with Operation Christmas Child all year,” she said. “I always check the clearance section each time I shop. It’s fun to find little deals and think of how the child will use it.”
This strategy helps Burns pack her average of 200 to 300 shoeboxes each year.
“You’ll be surprised by how many shoeboxes you’ll be able to pack that way,” she said.
Volunteering All Year
As churches and individuals prepare to pack gift-filled shoeboxes, more than 8,700 year-round Operation Christmas Child volunteers serve on area teams in church relations, media relations, community relations, collection logistics, or prayer mobilization.
“The area team really allows you to reach far beyond what you could do individually,” said Reta Singh, area coordinator for the Miami, Florida area team.
Ben Betzer, regional area coordinator for the Orange County, California area team, has a simple motivation for his involvement.“There are millions upon millions of kids that have got to be reached, and it just makes us understand as volunteers how critical it is that we do everything we can every day of our lives to expand His kingdom through Operation Christmas Child,” he said.
Kristy Gross, prayer mobilization coordinator for the Tuscaloosa, Alabama area team, volunteers so she can share her love for Operation Christmas Child and her heart for prayer.
“I want Operation Christmas Child to be on the heart of everybody 365 days a year,” she said. “I want to get OCC in their daily prayers the way their husband and kids are.”
Vicky Humphreys, the area coordinator for the Knoxville, Tennessee area team, said, “The more I’m involved with this project, the more I realize how these shoeboxes are for those people on both sides of the box. It’s so evident through the Russell family. As parents they were able to encourage their kids who wanted to adopt a child to fill shoeboxes in the mean time while they were waiting to adopt. That’s such good parenting and such an opportunity to build community and reach out to others.”
Around the World
After shoebox gifts are dropped off at more than 4,000 locations each fall, they begin the long journey by land, sky, and sea to reach children in need. When they clear customs in their destination countries—sometimes months later—ministry partners work to distribute the gifts to children in Jesus’ Name.This is the highlight for the 120 Operation Christmas Child national leadership teams around the world that organize and plan for the gifts throughout the year.
During any month, children worldwide are also enrolling in, studying, and graduating from The Greatest Journey, the 12-week discipleship course developed by Samaritan’s Purse for children who receive shoebox gifts.
Pastor Ion Groza, year-round coordinator for Operation Christmas Child in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, greatly appreciates those who pack shoebox gifts and invest in The Greatest Journey.
“We are encouraged to know that we have brothers and sisters who care for us and think of us even though we are far apart geographically,” he said. “They stand behind us and equip us, giving us necessary tools to work. Through this we see God’s hand and we pray God will reward them for everything they’ve done for us.
“We are all together part of this great work of spreading the Gospel.”