TRAVERSE CITY — A few small items added to the holiday shopping list can help make a difference in the life of a child.
Operation Christmas Child has delivered simple shoeboxes filled with small gifts and toys to more than 100 million boys and girls in over 130 countries since 1993. The nationwide project, operated through Samaritan’s Purse, a relief effort headed by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, is underway throughout northern Michigan, where church groups and individuals are encouraged to fill shoeboxes with toys, school supplies, hand-knit hats or mittens, hygiene products and other small items by Nov. 25.
“We’re hoping to send in excess of 10,000 boxes from the 10-county area,” said Laura O’Connor, the project’s area coordinator. “We’re excited about the consistent help we’ve had from area congregations, and we’re also reaching out to individuals who maybe don’t have a church family, but want to help.”
O’Connor said the week of today through Nov. 25 is National Collection Week, when completed boxes will be loaded onto tractor-trailers stationed at Faith Reformed Church in Traverse City. From there they will go to a distribution center in Minneapolis where they are checked for liquids, chocolate or other soft candies and any war-related toys and games.
“Other than that they are left the way they were packed,” O’Connor said, adding that some families often include personal notes or contact information.
“When Operation Christmas Child started in 1993 the goal was to reach children affected by the war in Bosnia with some Christmas gifts,” O’Connor said. “That year 28,000 shoeboxes were successfully delivered by Christmas.”
O’Connor said the project has grown so large that it now operates on a year-round basis. More than 9 million shoeboxes were collected worldwide in 2012 with over 6 million collected in the United States alone.
O’Connor accompanied a team of volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse to Kampala, Uganda in April to help distribute shoeboxes.
“I was shocked at the simplicity of what appealed to them,” she said. “Many of these children are living in desperate situations, and they were thrilled to have things like bars of soap. Having their own pencils meant some could attend school.”
The project has turned the local collection into a year-round endeavor.
“We host a large packing party at the Big Ticket Festival in June in Gaylord, and we were at the Bayside Festival in Traverse City over Labor Day. We’ve also participated in the Harbor Days parade. We’re always looking for ways to get the word out about OCC,” O’Connor said.
Getting the message out is the project’s main goal.
“Even though the world seems to have taken on a secular notion these days, we want all these children to know that God loves them, and that somewhere, someone around the world cares about them,” she said.