For nearly 30 years, Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, has delivered shoeboxes full of gifts to children in need across the globe. This year, the organization hopes to distribute approximately 9.5 million boxes and are projecting to send their 200 millionth box since inception.
Churches in Monongalia, Preston, and Marion counties have been working year-round to add to that total and send a little piece of West Virginia around the globe. Eight locations in the tri-county area have been collecting shoe boxes from the community and other organizations during their national collection week this week.
This weekend, the boxes collected at all the individual locations will be brought to a central drop-off location at the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) Church on Elmhurst Street in Morgantown.
The individual boxes will be packaged into larger cartons that hold roughly 15 to 16 shoeboxes. Starting Friday morning, two or three tractor trailer trucks will be brought in to take all the boxes to a processing and shipping hub in North Carolina.
Debbie Wotring, who has served as the central drop-off leader for the annual collection for three years, said they hope when the trucks pull out of the CMA parking lot Monday morning they will have collected well over 10,000 boxes from the tri-county area, but would ideally be closer to 12,000-13,000.
A minimum of four volunteers at CMA and each satellite location have worked for the past eight days collecting the boxes, but Wotring said typically they will have any number of people come in and out to help throughout the day.
“It takes an army and we are all volunteers,” Wotring said. “But I absolutely love it. I do.”
For Wotring, packing shoeboxes has been a family affair since she packed her first box with her now husband when they were in college. Since then, they have involved their six children who packed boxes every year for a child of their age and gender.
“We did that to instill love with them, but just as a mom knowing that there are children that don’t have basic necessities, like a toothbrush of their own,” Wotring said. “It brings a lot of joy and it’s just fun. I love sharing the ministry and plus every twelve months I have the opportunity to send a part of us and what we have here around the globe to where it’s needed most.”
Judy Dalton, who serves as project leader at the Sabraton Hill Baptist Church, has worked and organized throughout the year and was proud of the amount collected at Sabraton Hill.
“We had 842 boxes which equals 842 children,” she said, noting their average church attendance is usually around 115.
Dalton said she likes to include her email and family photo in the boxes she personally creates and loves it when she receives messages or photos from the child who received the box.
“I’ve had a French teacher write to me about a child that wants to say thank you. I’ve had a pastor in Tanzania send me pictures,” she said. “I even have a father still talking to me from last year and asking how I am doing.”
Dalton also recalled a child who came full circle in the program and spoke on the impact the box had on her life.
“Her name was Jackie and she said the best thing in her box was a toothbrush, because at the orphanage she passed it down to 10 people – 10 girls used the same toothbrush because that’s all they had,” she said.
On Friday, boxes were still being packed with individual gifts like handmade clothing, stuffed animals, school supplies, sewing kits, and personal hygiene items that were donated for future shoeboxes throughout the year.
“Sometimes people will have overflow when packing their boxes, so they bring us the overflow,” Wotring said. “Sometimes we have retail workers who, because they are in the store everyday, when things go to 95% off they grab those items for us and donate those.”
Wotring said a shoebox could easily be filled at the dollar store for $10 to $11. Monetary donations to ship the boxes are also accepted.
“If you include the shipping it’s $10 for the shipping,” Wotring said. “Some people will donate the box and other people will donate shipping so those marry well together.”
For those who aren’t able to make their own box, boxes can be built year-round online. Wotring said it will cost roughly $25 and the experience is similar to filling an Amazon cart.
“There are pictures of items and you can choose exactly what you want and it’s all done online,” she said. “I just think it’s important to know that even if you feel like you have limited resources here, you can literally have a global impact with a child who has nothing. So you might not have that opportunity at your door, but you can through the power of a shoebox.”
The boxes from our area will join likely a million others at the North Carolina processing center, one of eight across the U.S., where they will go through a quick inspection before being distributed globally.
“They will check the box just to be certain it’s not going to get pulled,” Wotring explained. “You can’t have any toy guns, no toy knives, no army related things because these are war-torn countries we are sending these to.They will also fill in any boxes that might have room for more items.”
The organization sends the boxes to 170 different countries and to some locations in the United States as well. And once they make it to their destination, Wotring said boxes are not just driven down the road and handed out randomly.
“They are received at an orphanage, they are received where a missionary is doing work, they are received at makeshift churches,” she said. “And every child that receives one will hear the word of the gospel.”
Wotring and Dalton agreed that there is one small issue to contend with when packing large numbers of boxes simultaneously and that is the amount of trash that accumulates.
“If we send everything brand new in the package like we in the U.S. want to see to know that it is brand new – they don’t have a trash collection system where we are sending these to these countries,” Wotring explained. “So they have nothing to do with the packaging.”
As of Thursday, just the CMA location had filled three 55 gallon drums with packaging, but another way to look at it is that removing items from their packaging also allows more gifts to be put in the box, Wotring said. So taking care of the trash really just allows for more stuff for the kids.
According to Wotring, as of Friday evening, 2,981 boxes had been brought to or packed at the CMA location and all the boxes from the other seven local collection sites will still be added over the weekend and should put them well over the 10,000 box mark and hopefully close to that 12,000-13,000 number.
“It really blesses my heart to participate in his ministry,” said Wotring.
“It’s exciting – we love it!,” Dalton said. “It’s infectious and addictive.”
For more information about how you can participate in Operation Christmas Child and how to pack a box online, visit samaritanspurse.org and click on the Operation Christmas Child link.