Operation Christmas Child needs volunteers

These Operation Christmas Child volunteers have already begun packing shoeboxes with treasures for children, some of whom live on the other side of the world. From left: Elaine Jelsone, Amanda Swartz, Debbie Kyzer and Area Coordinator Barbara Schoonmaker. | Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – Just as young children in Blythewood, Ridgeway and Winnsboro look forward to opening Christmas presents and finding a soccer ball, a cuddly stuffed animal, or game, children in developing countries around the world have the same dreams.

For many of those children, however there will be no Christmas joy, no soccer ball or stuffed animal, without Operation Christmas Child, an annual global nonprofit program that will launch locally next month for residents of Fairfield, Richland and Kershaw Counties who would like to provide Christmas shoebox gifts for children in poor and developing countries around the world.

The launch will take place on Sept. 17, from 2 – 3:30 p.m., at the First Baptist Church in Winnsboro.

“Alpaca Box,” the Operation Christmas Child mascot and slogan.

Individuals, churches, and community organizations are invited to attend the launch, pick up the colorful shoe boxes, take them home and fill them with age-appropriate gifts for children, then bring the filled shoeboxes back to the church during the Nov. 13 – 20 collection week to be sent to Charlotte for worldwide distribution.

“The goal for our three-county area this year is 22,500 shoeboxes,” says Barbara Schoonmaker, area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child.

“We collected 21,200 last year. The goal worldwide for the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes is 11 million.”

The guest speaker at the event will be a woman who received a shoebox gift many years ago as a little girl in an orphanage in the former Soviet Union. She was later adopted and brought to America, but she says she has never forgotten what that pretty shoebox of delightful gifts meant to her. Today, she fills shoeboxes for other children around the world knowing the boxes will bring the same joy and feeling of being loved to them as it did to her.

Attendees at the Sept 17 workshop will learn how to fill the colorfully designed red and green shoeboxes which will be available at the workshop.

“We’ll have specific guidelines for the kinds of gifts to pack and what not to pack,” Schooner said. “Many of the gifts can be picked up at Dollar Tree or other stores. As an optional resource, Operation Christmas Child now has an Amazon storefront at https://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/ with quality appropriate items that are recommended for the shoeboxes and can be purchased online such as a deflated soccer ball with pump that can fit right into the box and that still leaves room for other items as well,” she said.

Since its inception in 1990, Operation Christmas Child has delivered over 209 million shoeboxes to children in more than 170 countries and territories, according to the organization’s website. It’s a part of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization with a Christian focus.

In countries where they are distributed, Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes not only provide children with gifts but invites them to participate in a 12-week Bible study program called The Greatest Journey, for which the children are also gifted a guide book.

Examples of shoeboxes packed by volunteers for children in third world countries.

Schoonmaker, who’s been volunteering year-round with the program for more than a decade, describes a motivation that is both humanitarian and religious – and just trying to make a positive impact on the world.

“The shoeboxes give the children a lot of joy because most have never received such a gift [before],” Schoonmaker says. “It gives them love because somebody in another country who they don’t know and who does not know them sent them a gift,” she says, “and then it gives them hope as they hear the gospel in the 12-week class.”

Some people who fill shoeboxes do so as part of a church or community organization that works together to pack a lot of them, while others choose to stuff them as a family or individual.

Each box is packed for an individual child identified by age range and gender. For example, a box for a boy age 2-4 might include a stuffed animal, a small game, a matchbox car, a t-shirt, and building blocks, while a box for a girl age 10-14 might include a journal, pen, art supplies, hair bands, a small mirror and fashion accessories.

Shoeboxes can include personal hygiene items like toothbrushes, soap and wash cloths, as well as school supplies, which can be essential to enable children in some areas to attend school.

One girl said that in her school, children were forbidden to attend if they did not have a pencil and paper. Because her family was poor and had several children, her mother would break pencils into three pieces so each child could have a pencil and could go to school. Schoonmaker also told of how one young girl received a large pink eraser in her shoebox and immediately began erasing the pages in her used notebook so she could go back to school.

“Simple items like pencils and paper and a pencil sharpener are absolute treasures to these children,” Schoonmaker said.

If you pack a shoebox, it is often possible to find out what country the box was sent to – and it’s also encouraged to include a photo and contact information of the person who packed the box.

“Although many recipients may not have the ability to get in contact because they live far from computers, electricity, and mail service, we know that it is special for them to receive this contact information, and some keep it and make contact years later when they are older,” Schoonmaker said.

Schoonmaker says her group hopes to get more churches, organizations, and individuals involved in packing shoeboxes and also as volunteers in this year’s seasonal event and even year-round.

“I can be a missionary without leaving home. I can be a missionary by packing these shoeboxes,” she says. “And it’s just so wonderful knowing that a child who seems to have no hope will have a little bit of joy and love just by receiving that simple shoebox gift.”

Schoonmaker can be reached at [email protected] or (803) 296-2117. The Winnsboro First Baptist Church is located at 1373 Newberry Road in Winnsboro.

Examples of shoeboxes packed by volunteers for children in third world countries.

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]