Skits, blogs and crocheted Items are tools a Florida family uses to bless children around the world through Operation Christmas Child
“Get your cans and don’ts! Red hot cans and don’ts!” Suzanne Broadhurst enters the back of the sanctuary at Westside Chapel in Jacksonville, Florida, during a Sunday morning service yelling like she’s selling food at a baseball game.
Her daughter, Winter, echoes, “Cans and Don’ts!” in a drawn out voice. Shoeboxes hang around their necks like a vendor’s hot dog case.
“We’ve got Operation Christmas Child cans and don’ts right here!” cries Suzanne.
“You can pack a cardboard shoebox,” shouts Winter.
“And you can pack a similarly sized plastic shoebox,” adds Suzanne.
The pair continues a two-minute skit about the do’s and don’ts of shoebox packing, one of three original pieces they have created for their church since they’ve gotten involved with Operation Christmas Child.
They enjoy blessing their church with this service—and blessing children around the world with shoebox gifts—despite all they have been through.
For nearly 20 years, Winter and her brother Grant battled life-threatening allergies that took them to Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina and National Jewish Health in Colorado.
“Our expenses were high and yet God provided each step of the way,” Suzanne said. “Many times, beyond meeting the financial need, He blessed us with a tangible gift of His love: a small quilt, a toothbrush at the Ronald McDonald House, and craft supplies to keep our hands busy while we trusted Him with what we couldn’t do.”
But about four years ago, they realized as a family that they had something they could give.
“We wanted to reach out in the way God had touched our hearts—through tangible love,” Suzanne said.
Giving Back By Giving
Operation Christmas Child was the perfect ministry. The Samaritan’s Purse project delivers good news and great joy to millions of children around the world through gift-filled shoeboxes. Boys and girls learn about Jesus Christ, God’s greatest gift.
The Broadhursts began hitting clearance racks to fill shoeboxes even though money was so tight they found themselves hesitating before selecting some items thinking, It’s a whole dollar! That’s a lot right now.
“The real passion behind it was having an opportunity to attach the tangible gift of His love with the gift He gave on the cross,” Suzanne said.After that first year, Suzanne volunteered to be the Operation Christmas Child project coordinator at her church and started blogging about shoeboxes as well. She continues that today, encouraging others to get involved through a fall weekly countdown, stories of impact, and practical tools for packing shoeboxes.
One such tool is a crochet hook. Suzanne started by making pencil cases and hair bands to add a personal touch to the boxes her family filled. She shared photos of these creations on her blog and soon began developing patterns of crocheted shoebox fillers for others to use. Now she has a section on her blog called “Causes to Craft For”.
Suzanne crochets so much for Operation Christmas Child that she shares her extras with her church during their annual “Shop for Your Shoebox” event. She and other crafters at Westside Chapel line tables with handmade creations as well as other filler items to complement what people have already selected for their boxes.
Suzanne emphasizes that the starting point for Operation Christmas Child is thankfulness.
“It’s so powerful we end up trivializing it,” she said.
When she first started shopping for shoeboxes with her kids, she would have to tell them why they couldn’t send certain items due to conditions in the destination countries. After that first year, Suzanne said, “My kids would challenge me. I’d pick up a watering can or water toy only to have them respond, ‘But Mom, do they have clean water to drink? I wouldn’t want them to have to choose between playing with a water toy or drinking water.’”
This changed how Suzanne looked at her shopping for others as well as her own family.
“Certainly we all have needs that are legitimate,” she said, “but how much do we really need?”
Supplying Their Needs
One of the biggest obstacles to packing shoeboxes can still be financial, but Suzanne said God always provides.
Last year they put together roughly 25 shoeboxes and found themselves over what they’d budgeted for the shipping. They asked the Lord to make up the difference. The next Sunday a lady approached them at church saying, “We weren’t able to put together boxes, so are there boxes that need shipping money?” She wrote a check for the exact amount still needed.
Another issue has been supplies. Recently, another lady who crochets told Suzanne about how God was supplying yarn for her group. Driving home after hearing the comment, Suzanne prayed, “I’m sorry I’ve been limiting you in this. I’ve been praying for the $7* (per box for shipping). I’ve been praying for the good deals. I’ve been praying for creativity and connections. But I haven’t prayed for yarn.”
A couple hours later, a friend sent her a message on Facebook and asked, “Suzanne, would you like some yarn?” She brought her three large bags full of yarn!
“So what are the obstacles?” Suzanne asked. “Probably the limits of my own faith.”
Amid continued health challenges during the past year, Suzanne feels like the Lord has reminded her, “You have clean water, you have a crochet hook, and you have yarn. What are you whining about, girl? You can be doing something for somebody else.”
*The suggested per shoebox donation is $7 as of 2017.