Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Because the word “Christmas” is in the name of the Samaritan’s Purse ministry, many people often miss the fill-and-drop-off time window for Operation Christmas Child (OCC) shoeboxes. From Nov. 18 through 25, the two main sites in Macon County collecting these gift boxes are Holly Springs Baptist Church in Franklin and First Baptist Church in Highlands.
Last year, Western North Carolina (the seven counties west of Asheville) collected 19,095 shoeboxes, while Macon County collected 5,013 (4,331 in Franklin and 682 at the Highlands location), according to Brenda Hackett, Samaritan’s Purse media support for the Western North Carolina area team of Operation Christmas Child.
“I volunteer to try to keep the community updated about Operation Christmas Child,” said Hackett, who has been involved with the organization for 20 years. She said Holly Springs has been a drop off site for at least 10 years.
It was in 1993 that North Carolina-based Samaritan’s Purse began partnering with local churches around the world to deliver so far a total of 168 million shoebox gifts to children in need in 160 countries. This year’s U.S. goal for 2019 is 9.1 million, with the worldwide goal at 11 million, explained Hackett. “We have a goal of 20,000 for the Western North Carolina counties.”
Each gender and age-specific box is packed full of toys, school supplies, and hygiene items and is then sent off to various countries. Some special items, according to Samaritan’s Purse, include a deflated soccer ball with pump, stuffed animal, item of clothing, etc. A note from the person or family donating the box, as well as a photograph, is always appreciated. And, Hackett said the website offers more suggestions on what to purchase and pack. The site also includes what not to pack, such as war-related items (play knives or guns), chocolate (which can melt), medications, and breakables.
While many people pack a box or two and drop off at one of the two locations, some prefer to be part of a packing party. Holly Springs Baptist Church will host a packing party Sunday, Oct. 20, at 6 p.m. “We’ve been collecting items to go into the boxes and we will put all of those out and then pack them assembly-line style,” said Hackett. “Our goal is to pack at least 500 boxes.”
Regular shoeboxes can be packed, but there are sometimes also preprinted Operation Christmas Child boxes available at Holly Springs Baptist Church and First Baptist Church in Highlands. Call first to learn if some are still available, suggested Hackett. Plus, anyone can order, for a cost, packs of the pre-printed boxes from samaritanspurse.org.
The international headquarters of Samaritan’s Purse is in Boone, while there are additional U.S. facilities in Charlotte and North Wilkesboro, N.C. Besides the Operation Christmas Child effort of simply packing a shoebox and delivering it, there are opportunities at various warehouses to check boxes before they are shipped, as well as vision trips to actually deliver the boxes into the hands of children.
Hackett said Peter Rodewald, administrator and preschool director of Trimont Christian Academy, is also the youth pastor at Holly Springs. “He is getting a group together of youth and adults to go to a warehouse in Atlanta after Thanksgiving.”
Hackett said that people from Franklin have been on the team for Operation Christmas Child and have attended vision trips:
– June Trull, to Uganda in 2012 and to Paraguay in 2016
– Sierra Womack, to Rwanda in 2014
– Sherri Houston, to Zambia in 2016
Hackett said, “It would be exciting to do a vision trip. I have heard their stories and they are inspiring.”
Stories abound about how the shoeboxes minister to and help children. In the Fall 2019 issue of PrayerPoint, is a focus on a trip to Ecuador headed by Edward Graham, (son of Franklin) and his wife, Kristy. Quoted was Maribel Lena, an Ecuadorian mother of five whose children all received Operation Christmas Child gift boxes during the delivery trip. “Her 11-year-old daughter, Jennifer, could not stop smiling as she unpacked notebooks, colored pencils, gloves, and a hat. ‘I’ve never gotten a gift like this. It makes me really happy,” conveyed the article.
Hackett said it is important that interested parties mark their calendars so they do not miss the drop off dates for the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. For more information about packing the shoeboxes or how to become more involved, she suggested visiting samaritanspurse.org.