This week local people, centered on First Presbyterian Church, are gathering more than 3,000 shoeboxes packed with personal hygiene and small clothing items, school supplies and toys for boys and girls in countries hit by poverty, natural disasters or war.
It’s Operation Christmas Child, which First Presbyterian has been part of for several years. A number of other local churches and organizations, including some Georgia Southern University sororities and fraternities, help to prepare the shoebox donations for shipment. Families and individuals not affiliated with these groups also fill boxes and donate them. Last year’s Statesboro area drive topped 3,000 boxes, and the goal this year is 3,670.
“It’s just a wonderful ministry,” said Valerie Thomas, prayer coordinator for the Operation Christmas Child effort at First Presbyterian. “Like at our church, on a Wednesday night we’ll have a dinner, after dinner we’ll get together and pack boxes and get the kids and the youth involved, and it’s just a good experience. It gives us a chance to have fellowship and do something worthwhile.”
Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational, evangelical Christian organization headed by Franklin Graham, runs Operation Christmas Child. Donations come from throughout the United States, the United Kingdom and some other countries. This year, Samaritan’s Purse reports, shoebox gifts will go to more than 8 million children in 100 countries.
Last year, Haiti was a primary destination for local Operation Christmas Child gifts, before the earthquake that devastated that country in January. This year, Haiti is the first of about 10 countries scheduled to receive shoeboxes from the Atlanta processing center, said Joy Ugi, media spokesperson for Operation Christmas Child in the Southeast. Among the other countries she named were Iraq, Togo, Gabon, Ghana, Mali and Madagascar.
Step-by-step instructions for packing shoeboxes are available at the website www.samaritanspurse.org and from participating churches. Each box is packed for either a boy or a girl in one of three age categories: 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14.
A standard size shoebox is recommended, but some donors substitute plastic boxes of similar size with snap-on lids. Wrapping boxes is not required, but if donors do wrap them, the box and lid should be wrapped separately, because volunteers must check the contents.
Recommended gifts include small, age-appropriate toys, school supplies, such as pens, pencils and sharpener, crayons or markers, writing pads, coloring or picture books, clothing items such as socks, T-shirts or ball caps, and hygiene supplies like a comb, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a bar of mild soap and a wash cloth. Hard candies and gum are allowed if double-wrapped, but no other food items.
Some items are prohibited, including toy guns, knives or armed figures, and all liquids.
Operation Christmas Child asks each shoebox donor to also give at least $7 for shipping, but boxes unaccompanied by monetary donations are accepted, according to Ugi.
“We don’t want people to not be able to pack a shoe box because they can’t give the $7,” she said. “We encourage it just because it helps us with the shipping costs, but God really provides the money to ship those boxes.”
Each box must be labeled for a boy or girl and the age category.
Donors are also allowed to send the child a photo of themselves and their family in a separate envelope. Some people include their name and address, and some have received letters from children thanking them.
“Some people have done that, and some people are still communicating with the child that received the box,” Thomas said.
Donors can pre-arrange their donation through the “EZ Give” feature of the website, which will provide a printable label and direct them to a local collection site. This will also provide the donor a report on where the shoebox goes, Ugi said.
Collection week (Nov. 15-22) began Monday. Shoeboxes can be dropped off at First Presbyterian, 10 a.m. until noon and 4 p.m.-8 p.m. daily through Thursday, the same hours Friday except concluding at 7 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., Sunday 2-5 p.m. and Monday (Nov. 22), 1-8 p.m.
Other area churches serving as collection sites include New Life Baptist Church in Metter (Wed-Fri: 2-7 p.m., Sat: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sun: 1-5 p.m.) and Rehoboth Baptist Church near Claxton (Mon-Sun: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and 6 p.m.-8 p.m.)