Christmas is just around the corner and while everyone is scrambling to pick out presents, it is also important to remember those who have much, much less.
Operation Christmas Child, an extension of the Christian humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse, has been working to reach children around the world during the Christmas season for more than 30 years. The organization does so by using a simple, everyday object: a shoe box.
Each year, volunteers worldwide pack millions of shoeboxes with small gifts, hygiene items and even clothing to send to children across the globe.
While Operation Christmas Child is obviously a massive program, there is a Gainesville area team in the local community.
Area Coordinator Sue Beard said her team works in five counties, including Hall, Dawson, Banks, Lumpkin and Barrow. Her team works year round to encourage shoe box packings and get the boxes where they need to go.
Beard said nearly 16,000 boxes were collected last year from those five counties alone.
"In this area, we sent out 15,658 shoeboxes including building a shoebox online...there was like 533 of those," said Beard. "This year our goal is 17,000 from this area because people are back out again. That's what we're fervently praying for to come in this year."
While the gifts included in each box bring joy to every child they reach, Beard said the purpose behind the boxes is to teach their recipients about God’s love.
"The shoebox is actually just a tangible expression of God's love and a lot of times children say, these people don't even know me, how could somebody love me enough to send me a gift? And most of the time it's the first time they've ever had a gift," said Beard.
Beard said in addition to the shoeboxes, children are invited to participate in a Bible study called "The Greatest Journey" to learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
She said since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has reached 188 million children in 170 countries and territories.
"We go into very hard to reach places geographically and with religious restrictions," said Beard.
She said the shoeboxes inspire and provide hope to children in these hard to reach areas.
"Not only can you change a child's perspective or their view on things, not only can you send them this little box of hope that somebody packed but you send them the hope of Jesus," said Beard. "It's not about the box, this stuff is gonna go away...but the message of the shoebox is evangelism, is Jesus Christ- it's the real gift, the good news."
On the local level, Beard said 81 local churches have helped pack boxes over the last few years. Several businesses, religious organizations and even Girl Scout troops have contributed as well.
National Collection Week for the shoeboxes is next week, November 15 through 22. Anyone interested in packing a shoebox can do so by following the steps on the Samaritan's Purse website. There are options to pack a shoebox based on a girl or boy, ages 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14. Donors can also pay $25 to build a shoebox online.
Once a shoebox is packed, it can be delivered a local drop-off location. According to Beard, area drop-off locations include Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville, Christ's Place Church in Oakwood, Bethel United Methodist Church in Dawsonville, Concord Baptist Church in Dahlonega, and Crossview Church in Hoschton.
If anyone is interested in joining the area team for a year round position, more information is under "Get Involved" here.
The author would like to thank Sue Beard and members of Christ's Place Church in Oakwood for allowing video footage during a shoebox packing party.