Fourteen years ago, Sally Christie came across information that forever changed how her family celebrated Christmas.
She learned about Operation Christmas Child, a project of an organization called Samaritan’s Purse.
Since then, her family has been involved in sending boxes filled with Christmas gifts to children throughout the world.
And as a community relations coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, Christie encourages more people to get involved.
“We found that it changed what our son (Ian, who is now 21) expected for Christmas,” she said of their first experience in 1996 with Operation Christmas Child. “We couldn’t fit everything in the box. He said, ‘We need a bigger box.’ It changes you, and it changes your attitude about what Christmas is.”
Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization that, for 40 years, has sought to help the poor and sick of the world.
Christie said the organization’s Operation Christmas Child was still a fairly new program when she learned of it.
Operation Christmas Child involves packing a standard empty shoe box with gifts for Christmas.
In the Waupaca area, information and box drop locations include Curves, Faith Community Church, St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Community and Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church.
Dates for drop-offs may vary at each location, but she said that individuals usually will have until mid-November to pack a shoe box and drop it off at one of the sites.
The locations that are involved will have pre-printed boxes. However, anyone can pack a standard size shoe box or a plastic shoe box, and drop it off at one of the locations.
Participants choose whether the gift will be for a boy or a girl, and also choose the age category: 2 to 4 years old, 5 to 9 years old, or 10 to 14 years old. That information must be taped on the top of the box.
Suggested gift items include school supplies, toys, hygiene items and other things, such as hard candy, gum, T-shirts, socks, hair clips and flashlights.
Christie said that plastic boxes are being encouraged, because in orphanages and re-settlement camps, children often do not have space for their own things.
She said statistics show that more girls – most of them in the 5 to 9 age range – receive gifts, and so, she hopes those who give also consider giving to boys and children of all ages.
Christie said millions of shoe boxes go out each year.
Last year, more than 8 million shoe boxes were collected from 13 nations, she said.
This year, Samaritan’s Purse has committed to trying to provide an additional 1 million shoe boxes due to the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and the flooding in Eastern Europe, Christie said.
In addition to the donated items, people are asked to donate $7 to cover the cost of shipping each of the boxes. Checks should be made out to Samaritan’s Purse and be included inside of the box.
The cash donation can also be made online at <a target="_blank" href="http://www.samaritanspurse.org/ezgive.” target=”_blank”>www.samaritanspurse.org/ezgive. People are able to find out where their boxes go when they visit the website.
Christie recommends that regardless of the age of the child chosen for a box, the following three items – a toothbrush, pencils and a soft toy – should be included.
The toothbrush means the child will not have to share a toothbrush with another child. Pencils help with education, and soft toys comfort the children, while also aiding in the children not being lured by traffickers.
Through the years, Christie has helped many young people become involved in the project, including Sunday school classes.
She often prayed that she would receive confirmation that her boxes were received from someone.
One year, she was wrapping the box – the bottom and top of the box are wrapped separately – when she ran out of Christmas paper. Her mother gave her some wrapping paper that was suitable for a child, and when Christie saw the report about Operation Christmas Child that came out the following February, she saw a picture with a box that had that same wrapping paper on it.
At first, she thought someone else used the same paper that she did, but then, she noticed that some of the paper had been torn off already by the young girl pictured, and there was a shoe box that Christie recognized as her own shoe box.
“To me, I think the Lord was just blessing us with this,” she said.
Christie said families can include notes inside of the shoe boxes. She has received letters from children who received gifts from her family.
Teams of Christians work in the approximately 100 countries that receive the shoe boxes to assess their distribution.
“They look at a 12-year cycle, so no child receives more than one box, unless there is a natural disaster,” Christie said.
With billions of children living in poverty and orphanages, and millions of boxes being donated, she said it makes sense that they rotate the distribution in order to touch more lives.
These children have often never received a gift before, she said.
Due to the number of natural disasters that have occurred in the past year, Christie is encouraging more people to try this project.
“There are people,” she said, “who never leave Waupaca to go to a mission. However, they are being missionaries by sending these packages throughout the world.”
To become involved, visit Samaritan’s Purse online at www.samaritanspurse.org or call Christie at 715-258-9951.