For some volunteers at Operation Christmas Child, the best part of the project is seeing the joy in a child’s eyes — whether here or across the world.
The project has been in the Jacksonville area for almost 20 years now, volunteer Becky Hoffman said, and last year, the Jacksonville location was upgraded to a collection center from the amount of boxes collected. Since there’s a location in town, Hoffman said people are more aware of it and more willing to participate.
Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, provides shoeboxes filled with supplies to local distributors for children outside of the United States affected by war, poverty, natural disaster, famine and disease. The shoeboxes are also distributed to children living on Native American reservations on U.S. soil. Some items placed in the box include hygiene items, small toys, and school supplies.
Being that the project is a ministry, it’s close to the volunteers’ hearts.
“I have a heart and a passion for children and want them all to one, know the name of Jesus and know his importance and to two, know that each child with receive a gift either at Christmas time or sometime during the year,” Hoffman said.
She joined the operation about 20 years ago, when she saw a poster about it. She’s been involved ever since.
Volunteer Pat Fountain’s story of getting involved is similar. She saw information about the project from her church, Mt. Zion Church, and when her church began preparing boxes, her interest grew from there.
“I like working with the people,” she said. “I like knowing it’s part of a mission to spread God’s word and also a mission to help children and their families.”
Inside of each shoebox, a little book in all languages called “The Greatest Journey” is placed.
“The children learn on a simple level about Jesus, why he came, and why he died,” Hoffman said. “Then they take it and they share it with their family and other children.”
In 2005, the Jacksonville center collected less than 3,000 boxes. From there, they’ve grown to collect over 9,500 boxes in 2015. This season, they expect to collect over 10,000 boxes, Joe Cappar, of New River Baptist Association, said. Their goal is to reach 11,500 boxes.
Churches aren’t the only ones collecting for this project. Volunteers of the organization accept boxes from individuals, home schools, and organizations too, Fountain said. Even children have stepped in to donate boxes.
“When people bring their shoeboxes to their center, especially the children … they are so excited when their parents let them decide what goes in the box … and they say, ‘that’s for my special friend’ that they don’t even know,” Hoffman said, adding she loves to see “the light of the children’s faces doing something for someone they don’t even know.”
On Sept. 8, a kickoff rally was held for Operation Christmas Child at the gymnasium of the New River Baptist Association. Guest speaker Stephanie Seymore shared her experiences delivering the boxes to children in Tanzania.
The goal of the event was “to rally folks together for the beginning of our new season for collecting items for the boxes…to inform them the schedule, and to encourage them in the process of collecting boxes,” Cappar said.
Locations in Sneads Ferry, Richlands and Jacksonville will accept boxes during the week of Nov. 14-21, but for now, they all have shoeboxes available for those wanting to make a donation. Organizers also request a $7 donation to help with shipping costs. The locations include, Richlands First Baptist, New River Community Church of God, and New River Baptist Association in Jacksonville.
For those interested in making a donation, Cappar suggested items like toothpaste, deodorant, soap, socks, knit hats or scarves, a travel size game of checkers, a desk of cards, and small books for children.
For more information, visit NewRiverBA.com.