A girl who has packed hundreds of Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes with her friends embarks on a journey to pack and deliver the 100 millionth gift
Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12, NIV).
These words, written by the apostle Paul to Timothy, were a fitting send-off for 12-year-old Evilyn Pinnow as she said her final goodbyes to family and members of The Shoebox Club at the Milwaukee airport on a Friday afternoon. Surrounded by about 15 of her friends, Evilyn cradled a small shoe box wrapped in colorfully painted paper.
“Since all of your handprints are on the box, it’s like a little piece of the club is going with the box,” Evilyn told her peers.
The box, stamped in red, blue, green, and yellow handprints, is the symbolic 100 millionth shoe box gift packed for Operation Christmas Child since 1993. The project will reach the milestone this week, as shoe box gifts are packed and taken to drop-off sites around the United States during National Collection Week.
Evilyn, with the 100 millionth box in tow, is making appearances at various events around the country, including Sacramento; Nashville; Tupelo, Miss.; New York City; Huntington Beach, Ca.; Denver; Minneapolis; Boone, N.C.; and Charlotte, N.C.. She will encourage communities to join in the fun and pack their own boxes to add to the total before traveling to hand-deliver the milestone gift to a girl in the Dominican Republic.
A new item will be placed in the box by a different person at each stop, creating a collaborative gift that represents the collective effort that is at the heart of Operation Christmas Child. Each year, millions of shoe boxes are filled with small toys, hygiene items, school supplies, and other items chosen with care and packed by children, families, churches, businesses, clubs and organizations.
Evilyn’s gift represents the millions of children around the world who have been touched by receiving these tangible demonstrations of the love of Jesus Christ. Many of the items will be added by shoe box recipients who now live in the U.S. and send shoe boxes of their own.
Evilyn founded The Shoebox Club in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, when she was just 8, after she won a “Kids Praying for Kids” journal from Samaritan’s Purse as a prize for completing a crossword puzzle at an AWANA meeting.
She had been praying, asking God to show her how she could help children in need. After reading about the dire living conditions in countries such as Uganda and Cambodia, she felt the Lord calling her to start a club with her peers to pack shoe box gifts for Operation Christmas Child to send to children who desperately needed to know the love of Christ.
The club started small, with 26 kids attending the first official meeting in May 2009.
“Now we have anywhere from 40 to 80 kids that come each month, and we pack 40 to 50 shoe boxes at each meeting,” Evilyn said.
Since it began, the club has packed more than 2,000 shoe boxes.
“It was growing by the hundreds, and now it’s just erupted,” she said.
It has grown not only in size, but in sophistication. The club, run entirely by its young members, has a vision statement, mission statement, and fully functioning board of directors with a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer who must be elected by the members each December.
Children of any age may join, but the board members are limited to those in third through sixth grade. The club even has a bank account to receive donations, which the treasurer—Evilyn’s younger brother, Owen—uses to purchase needed filler items or supply the $7 per box* shipping fee.
The current president, 10-year-old Autumn Congdon, is largely responsible for presenting the project to local business owners and requesting donated items that the club can pack in the shoe boxes. Vice president Brynn Torrenga, 9, reserves space for the monthly meetings and sets up the packing areas. Secretary Elizabeth Lyon, 9, writes the club newsletters and updates the bulletin board at Faith Community Church, where many club members attend.
“It was my mom’s idea to get the board [members] to help me,” Evilyn said. “I’m glad she did that.”
After helping her daughter set up the board, Josie Pinnow and the other adults now attend the meetings as monitors, occasionally reminding the kids about snack time or the need to pray for the boxes they are packing.
Parents also wrap all of the shoe boxes, many of which are donated by a local Nike outlet. The store has been a supporter of the club since the beginning when Evilyn made her first presentation to the owner asking for empty shoe boxes. Now the outlet appoints an employee as a coordinator for The Shoebox Club, a coveted position among college students who start work at the store each year.
Club members gathered last week to pack the final set of boxes for the season—about 100, bringing their total for the year to more than 800 gifts.
“I cannot do anything but think about the children who will hear about Christ,” said 7-year-old Noah Schultz.
Brent Torrenga, father of the current vice president, Brynn, said The Shoebox Club has been an example to the adults in the church.
“With the kids leading, they show the adults that they can get involved too,” he said. “It’s such a hands-on way to show the love of Christ, just to walk up and grab a box and be praying for it, knowing that there’s something greater at stake—the child’s salvation.”
Each child involved understands the importance of the shoe box gifts. Eight-year-old Maren Christian joined The Shoebox Club because, “Jesus told me I should do it for all the kids around the world.”
As the club members finished up, Evilyn began to pray: “Dear God, thank you for this project that allows us to be your hands and feet.”
She will be the hands and feet representing everyone who has packed a shoe box gift since 1993.
“It’s very special to me to be on the 100 Millionth Box Tour,” she said. “I’ve been packing boxes for four years, so it’s going to be very exciting to actually see the looks on the kids’ faces when I give them the shoe boxes.”
She wanted to make sure, however, that the trip would not be focused on her. On Friday, as she embarked on the first leg of the journey that will end in the Dominican Republic she said, “Please pray that God gets the glory for everything I do.”
*The suggested per shoebox donation is $9 as of 2017.