By David Esteppe
Lewisburg Rotarian Judy Long presented a popular worldwide outreach program to the club members on Monday. Operation Christmas Child is a project under the umbrella of the Samaritan’s Purse organization founded by Billy Graham. Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational Christian organization providing aid to victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease and famine around the world since 1970.
Operation Christmas Child (OCC) began in response to war-torn Croatia and the Balkans by looking for a way to bring some joy to the children. Son of Billy, Franklin Graham came up with the notion of a shoebox of treats and small gifts to send to the area. The idea not only came to fruition; but a West Virginian named Mary Damron took it to heart. She gathered shoeboxes from friends and family and filled them with goodies for children. She contacted Franklin Graham about getting the shoeboxes to OCC. She was told to bring them to the office of the organization. It turned out the office was rather small and she had over a thousand shoeboxes. The pleasant surprise of such an abundant effort struck Franklin Graham to invite Damron to go to Bosnia with OCC to distribute the shoeboxes.
Last year shoeboxes went to children in 113 countries. A specific area is cycled through every 14 years to allow for each generation of children to experience receiving the shoeboxes. The collection of the shoeboxes happens from November 17 – 24. Locally, the fairgrounds in Fairlea will have a building receiving shoeboxes during this time. Over 2,500 shoeboxes were donated last year.
Long explained that one would decide whether to label their shoebox as for a boy or girl, then decide the age group from 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14. Long suggests including dolls and stuffed animals for small children to hold. They often need that missing comfort depending on the current strife in their lives. Toys that light up, batteries, yo-yos, harmonicas are great. Pens, pencils, markers and paper are great. Solar calculators, picture books, crayons and coloring books are great. Nonliquid hygiene items like toothpaste, bar soap, combs and washcloths are great. Socks, hats, sunglasses, jewelry, flip flops are great. Long mentioned that one could use a Rubbermaid type box with a lid in lieu of actual shoeboxes. These then become reusable containers for the child. Do not include used or damaged items, war-related toys such as guns, liquids, medications, vitamins, perishables, glass or aerosol cans. Please do include a $7 donation inside to cover the cost of shipping the box.
“Use this as an educational opportunity for your own children. Let them go shopping with you for the items and let them show you what kids their age would pick. Let them know how they are helping other children around the world. Sometimes a pen pal can come from inserting a letter into the box,” said Long.
You can track your gift box by including a $7 donation online to cover the shipping and follow your gift over the course of a year to see where it ends up. This is only available if you chose to donate online at the Samaritan’s Purse website.
Long shared a story of compassion about New Yorkers and New Jerseyians, who themselves were victims of hurricane Sandy last year. It usually takes a year to gather and distribute the shoeboxes. When a typhoon hit the Philippines in 2013, OCC wanted to rush to provide a Christmas to the children devastated by the typhoon. Using the faster moving New York and New Jersey ports to get the aid to the Philippines directly was the only way; but could people already hurting themselves provide a rapid and noticeable enough response to help? The answer was yes to the tune of 65,000 shoeboxes gathered and shipped and distributed between November and Christmas.