ARNOLD—Jefferson County may not be on the way to the North Pole, but several churches there know how to make children happy.
First Baptist Church here works all year long to pack shoebox gifts for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child and, in addition to packing boxes, First Baptist Church of Festus/Crystal City serves as an area relay center to collect shoeboxes.
First Arnold packed 1,993 boxes this year.
“We gather supplies all year long,” Dana Clements, First Arnold member and project leader said. “I have a core group working on this, but we get others involved in collecting. Some people donate supplies and others give money for the boxes.”
The church fills so many boxes that Clements has discovered some creative ways of obtaining the gift contents.
“We need thousands of beanie babies and other items,” she said. “I’ve had success with ads for donations on Craig’s list. In fact, some people who donated from Craig’s list came back and donated more later.”
Clements pointed out that she always put the request ad on Craig’s list in her name rather than the church.
“God is the provider and I don’t want it to look like the church is asking for handouts,” she said. “In addition, I have other volunteers who are super shoppers and they look for bargains on the clearance tables throughout the year.”
Clements shared other collection ideas.
“We use rewards cards,” she said, “especially for paper at office supply stores. We make notebooks for the children and we also watch the freebie websites for deals.”
Another volunteer and member of First Arnold, Ivan Suslaev, said the church-wide packing party was improved.
“We had an MC this year and it was great. We wanted to accomplish fellowship with the party and this helped us reach that goal. He kept things interesting and people were excited to hear about the number of boxes being packed.”
Clements agreed that the packing party this year was better.
“We had it organized according to gender and age,” she said. “Each person got a wrapped box and then they could complete it by visiting the appropriate table.”
Suslaev pointed out filling shoeboxes is a great way to participate in missions.
“Christ left us with the Great Commission,” he said. “Packing a box will help thousands of children hear about Christ. It may cost $10 to pack a box and $7 for the shipping. It gives you the biggest bang for the buck. Samaritan’s Purse says that many in the family are touched by these boxes.”
Lequeta Sweeney, relay center coordinator and member of First Festus/Crystal City, saw the impact of a gift when she was on a mission trip to Africa.
“It opened my eyes when I went to Africa in 2007 on a mission trip,” she said. “We started the VBS week with 45 kids and by the end of the week we had 400. We gave them a variety of small gifts including some bracelets. Later, I saw the child’s mother wearing one of the bracelets. The families just didn’t have anything. I only saw a few homemade toys.”
Later that year, Sweeney and her husband, Wayne, went to Charlotte, N.C., to work in the Operation Christmas Child processing center.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said, “I was hooked when I walked in that warehouse and I saw boxes shoulder high and as far as the eye could see.”
For families who haven’t yet packed their gift of hope, it’s not too late. Many local families are choosing to pack shoebox gifts virtually through “Build a Box,” an online giving tool. It’s a simple, quick, yet meaningful way to impact a child in need.
Volunteers can visit the project’s website at www.samaritanspurse.org/occ, select a child’s age and gender, shop through an online selection of gifts, “pack” them in an empty shoe box, and finish it off with a note of encouragement. Then through tracking technology, donors can “follow” the box to the destination country where it will be hand-delivered.
More information about Operation Christmas Child is available by calling 913-831-4466 or by visiting www.samaritanspurse.org/occ.
VICKI STAMPS/contributing writer