Good things come in small packages.
Since 2010, Hillside Missionary Church in Clarinda has been collecting shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts for children around the world as part of Operation Christmas Child. The program is sponsored by the relief organization Samaritan’s Purse.
“A few years before that we had someone who was coming to our Awana kids’ club and they asked if we had heard of it. We promoted it and several people started packing shoeboxes, but we had to take them to Nebraska City because that was the closet collection point at that time. So we thought maybe we should be a collection point,” Laura Tally, drop-off team leader, said.
Operation Christmas Child was established in 1993 by Samaritan’s Purse. Over that time the program has provided shoeboxes for more than 178 million children in more than 160 countries and territories. In 2020 the organization is hoping to collect an additional 11 million shoeboxes that will be distributed to children in more than 100 countries.
“Their mission is to share God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world. The purpose of the boxes is to open the door in order to share the Word of God,” Tally said. “We have had reports that this is the first gift some of these children had ever received. It’s a fabulous program.”
Over the 10 years Hillside Missionary Church as served as a collection point, interest in the program has steadily increased. The first year Tally said the church collected 74 shoeboxes. That number increased to 443 boxes last year.
Hillside Missionary Church will be collecting shoeboxes for the program from Monday, Nov. 16, through Monday, Nov. 23. People may drop off their filled box at the church, located at 920 S. 16th Street in Clarinda, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Donations on Wednesday, Nov. 18, will be accepted from 4-6 p.m. People may also deliver their box to the church Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 21-22, from 12-2 p.m. or Monday, Nov. 23, between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tally said special precautions have been put in place this year to protect people dropping off gift boxes and the workers accepting the boxes.
“We are offering curbside drop-offs so people do not have to get out of their vehicles or come into the building. We want to eliminate any barriers people may have if they want to donate a box. We want it to be as safe as possible,” Tally said.
The boxes collected in Clarinda, and other drop-off sites like Shenandoah and Red Oak, will be taken to the collection center in Atlantic at 11 a.m. Nov. 23. Tally said people may also contact the church to arrange another time to deliver their box if necessary.
“All the boxes from the smaller centers go to the Atlantic collection center. Then they go to a regional warehouse where they are shipped abroad,” Tally said.
People may use any shoebox they have at home or get a box from the church to participate in the program. Tally said some people also purchase plastic totes that are similar in size to a shoebox because a box with a securely fitting lid can be as valuable to a third world child as the products inside the box.
Tally said it is recommended participants include one wow gift that is the primary present for the child. This could be a doll; a stuffed animal, a deflated soccer ball and air pump; or other quality toy or present that fits in the box.
“There are three age groups people can buy for, so keep in mind the age of the child. The age groups are 2 to 4-years-old, 5 to 9-years-old or 10 to 14-years-old. You are also asked to select if your box is for a boy or a girl,” Tally said.
The rest of the box may then be filled with other smaller gifts, hygiene products, clothing items and school supplies. These could include toy cars, jump ropes, yoyos, toothbrushes, bars of soap, combs, hats, gloves and t-shirts. However, no liquid items like toothpaste, shampoo or liquid glue may be included.
“We heard a story about a child who wanted to go to school, but his family could not afford the supplies ne needed. When he got his box it had the supplies he needed and he was able to go,” Tally said.
Samaritan’s Purse also offers the option to build a gift box online through its website, samaritanspurse.org. The donors select what items to include in their box and the organization then assembles the box for them.
People may also print a bar code from the website that allows them to follow the travel of their box and learn where it is finally delivered. Tally said this is very people with younger children.
“They do ask for a donation of $9 per box to cover the shipping and the cost of the brochure included in each box that shares a gospel message. This donation can be placed in the box or done online,” Tally said.
People may also gift-wrap their box. However, the box and lid must be wrapped separately because the box must be opened and inspected before being sent abroad. People may use rubber bands to secure the lid if the box is very full.
Tally said it was hard to imagine Hillside Missionary Church has already participated in Operation Christmas Child for 10 years.
“It has gone so fast,” Tally said. “I think the response has been very good. People do it and get very excited about it. So they continue doing it and often increase their number of boxes. When you see the impact the boxes have on children, it is very easy to get excited.”
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