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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

Holiday MAG: Claremonters step up for shoebox gift drive

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

The well dressed woman in the blue Toyota had work to do, and was not interested in talking. In her car’s backseat were 24 shoeboxes, each hand-packed with supplies and gifts by members of a local senior community.

Masked volunteers unloaded the two dozen shoeboxes, which were then logged and labeled as part of Operation Christmas Child, a massive annual endeavor to provide children in some of the world’s poorest countries with a small gift including school supplies, basic hygiene items and a toy or two.

During the national collection week, November 16 to 23, the non-profit organization collected gift filled shoeboxes from nearly 5,000 drop off locations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

The group also operates in Canada, the U.K., Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Finland, Spain, and New Zealand. Nearly 575,000 volunteers worldwide—including more than 270,000 in the United States—are involved in collecting, shipping and distributing the shoeboxed gifts.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. Samaritan’s Purse currently works in more than 100 countries to provide aid to victims of war, disease, disaster, poverty and famine, according the group’s website.

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 178 million shoebox gifts to children in more than 160 countries and territories, according to the group’s website.

In 2020, the group hopes to collect enough shoebox gifts to reach another 11 million children in countries including Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda and Ukraine. More than 10.5 million shoebox gifts were collected worldwide in 2019, with more than 8.9 million collected in the U.S.

The local nexus point for Operation Christmas Child is the parking lot of Solid Rock Church on Towne Avenue, where three volunteers diligently handled the slow but steady parade of donors on a recent chilly morning.

Leading the local effort was Claremont resident, and Solid Rock parishioner, Melissa Everett. Clipboard in hand she registered and organized each box based on the age and gender of the child who will be receiving the gift.

Assisting Ms. Everett were San Dimas residents Jeff and Doris Gerry who have been involved in Operation Christmas Child since its inception.

Not long after a COURIER reporter arrived, Claremont resident Linda Rice pulled up with her shoebox donation. Ms. Everett helped her with the label and explained that with addition of a small donation, which would also go toward offsetting the cost of shipping, she could track the gift.

“You will get a notice telling you what country the box has been delivered to,” Ms. Everett explained. “It’s kind of fun, because you find out how long it took the box to get there.”

After scanning the label, Ms. Everett led a prayer for the box.

“We have heard stories about kids living in poverty who want to attend school but they can’t because they don’t have the supplies they need,” Ms. Everett said. “And here comes the shoebox and it has the pencils that they need, the pens and the paper that we take for granted.”

She recalled how some children who live in orphanages might have to share a toothbrush with several other children, but when they get one of these shoeboxes they now have a toothbrush and a wash cloth of their own soliciting a reaction like, “Oh my gosh somebody loved me and cared about me,” according to Ms. Everett.

The gift boxes also contain what she describes as the “wow item” designed to get a big reaction from the children. It might be a soccer ball, baby doll, or teddy bear they can cuddle. For many of these children, the Operation Christmas Child shoebox is the first gift they have ever received.

Even though the national collection week is over, shoebox gifts can still be built online by searching for Operation Christmas Child or visiting www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/buildonline/.

The gifts are distributed at “outreach events” which also serve the group’s other mission, which is to evangelize for the Christian faith—although the organization is very clear that no child will be turned away just because their family comes from a different religious background.

The goal is to get the gifts into the children’s hands by Christmas, however, for much of the world that is not possible. Ms. Everett attended an outreach event in Togo three years ago and was told then that it typically takes one to three months for the gifts to arrive by ship.

“In some of the countries they will not receive them until well into the year, so we always say ‘It’s Christmas for them whenever it arrives,’” Ms. Everett said.

The organization is holding a Pacific Island initiative this year, with the goal of reaching 100 islands in five years. “So we will definitely have some going there. And usually we have some go to Asia and Africa,” she said. However, due to the pandemic, some countries are completely shut down and can’t receive any gifts this year.

On Tuesday the COURIER contacted Ms. Everett to find out how the local collection drive had gone.

“We are so excited to know that through our little center, 980 children will get to experience God’s love in a tangible way. These gifts will reach children in need around the world with the hope and love that is only found in Jesus. In a pandemic year, that hope is needed more than ever,” Ms. Everett said.

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