People affected by Hurricane Sandy pack Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts that will be part of a special airlift for boys and girls impacted by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
Thousands of miles of land and sea stretch between the east coast of Long Island, New York and the east coast of Leyte Island, Philippines.
Most residents of these islands have never met, yet many now share a common bond. They have faced the devastation of water and wind, the aftermath of soaking rains and storm surge. Those who survived know what it is to pick up the scattered pieces of their lives from the rubble and begun to rebuild.
Residents of coastal New Jersey, New York City, and Long Island have had a year to recover and reflect since Hurricane Sandy stormed through their lives in late October 2012. They know all too well the long road that lies ahead for people in the Philippines who survived Typhoon Haiyan. And they are reaching out to help.
On December 12, nearly 65,000 gift-filled shoeboxes, many of which were packed by people affected by Hurricane Sandy, will be airlifted from John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens and delivered directly into the arms of children who survived Typhoon Haiyan.
During the week before Thanksgiving as Operation Christmas Child drop-off locations opened to collect shoeboxes, volunteers in the northeast buzzed with the excitement of being able to send their shoeboxes to children in the Philippines.
“We are so blessed that we as a church are able to share these blessings,” said Rowena Gaspar, a volunteer who coordinates a shoebox drop-off location at Queens Bible Church in Glendale, NY. “It’s a really joyful feeling for them and for us.”
For the Queens Bible Church congregation, it is especially wonderful that their shoebox gifts will be sent to the Philippines. About 95 percent of the congregation is Filipino.
Since 1998, Operation Christmas Child has delivered 2,712,769 shoebox gifts to the Philippines, and over 500,000 more will be delivered this year. Of the 65,000 from New York and New Jersey that will be airlifted to the Philippines, 295 were packed by people who attend Queens Bible Church.“Especially this year, we are all excited,” Rowena said. “Even though a typhoon happened to our country at least it gives us the opportunity to share these blessings from our church straight to our country, to the Philippines. And we pray that these kids, when they open the boxes, they feel the love that we put in every single box.”
Rowena was displaced from her home in the Bronx for about a week after Hurricane Sandy because there was no gasoline for her to drive home, nor electricity and heat at her apartment building. She is a nurse, so she stayed busy caring for extra patients who were relocated to the nursing home she works at because of storm damage in Far Rockaway.
Just as things eventually returned to normal, she believes that typhoon victims in the Philippines will eventually recover.
“It’s devastation from Typhoon Haiyan, and we came from Superstorm Sandy from last year too, but Filipinos are resilient. They can always recover,” she said. “We came from nothing, and we will be able to surpass this.”
Pastor Eric Bautista agreed.
“Our people will be blessed even more in spite of this calamity that they had to face. Praise be to God for that,” he said. “We are trusting that God will use these boxes to ease the pain that they have encountered.”
During National Collection Week, as the congregation packed their shoeboxes into cartons to be shipped, their excitement was palpable. They cheered at the announcement that all of their shoeboxes would be shipped to typhoon-affected areas, and smiles stretched from ear to ear.Many people in the congregation have family members living in the Philippines. After Typhoon Haiyan struck, one family could not reach their brother who lives on Leyte Island. Finally, after one week, they made contact and learned that although they lost their home, the family was safe.
Through the shoeboxes filled with small toys, clothing, hygiene items, and school supplies, many children on Leyte Island who lost everything will be comforted by once again having something to call their own.
“For our church, knowing that many of our people had to encounter this tragedy, we are just praying and hoping that God will use us to bless them,” Pastor Bautista said. “We’re praying that our efforts will be a gift for these people.”
Even more, they hope that when the children receive a shoebox, they will understand that God loves them.
“Our hope is that their sadness, this tragedy that they had to face, this difficulty will be eased by the knowledge that there are people who love them, that there are people who are praying for them,” Pastor Bautista said. “It is our prayer that they may know the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. This bad thing that happened to them is not something to blame God for. But in fact, it is a time for them to reach out to God.
“We are trusting that God will use these boxes to sort of ease the pain that they have encountered. But at the same time, it will be a way for them to know that there is something that God has planned for them, something better.”
The airlift event will be at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, December 12, at Hangar 19, John F. Kennedy International Airport. It will celebrate God’s provision through Operation Christmas Child and volunteers in the northeast area. Special guests will share testimonies about how they have been impacted by Operation Christmas Child and Samaritan’s Purse firsthand, and Franklin Graham will share a special message. To attend, please RSVP to OCCairlift@samaritan.org by December 11 with the number of people in your group, the name of each person, and your email address.