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Tri-Cities team hopes to change 40,650 lives this year

Amy Millhorn Leonard • Oct 22, 2018 at 4:30 PM

Imagine being a child and living in unimaginable conditions barely able to survive. Then one day the child is invited to an event and given a gift box. In the box is a book, pencil and paper, a ball or toy, a toothbrush, bar of soap, clothing or perhaps a pair of shoes. This precious gift is often a child’s first gift ever and can change his or her life. School supplies can help him/her attend school. Shoes for those long treks for water, food, work or school are valuable. Best of all, there is a doll or stuffed animal to cuddle during the dark nights or a ball to play with in the village with other children.

Millions of children throughout the world live in dire and destitute situations. Their everyday lives are marred by extreme poverty, disease, natural disasters and even war. There are very few chances for many of these children to know anything different, to attend school or even to just play and have fun. In 1993, Samaritan’s Purse sought to enhance the lives of these children and established a project called “Operation Christmas Child.”

Operation Christmas Child collects and delivers gifts of shoeboxes filled with toys, school supplies and more to millions of children all over the globe every year around Christmastime. Now celebrating 25 years, they have collected over 157 million shoebox gifts total and delivered them in 160 countries/territories. Shoeboxes are collected in the United States and 10 other countries. In 2018, they hope to collect and deliver 11 million shoeboxes.

In the Tri-Cities, there is a team of volunteers dedicated to making sure our area meets the goal of collecting and packing 40,650 shoeboxes this year. Team members Shirley Walters, Operation Christmas Child community relations team member, and Melissa Pitts, prayer coordinator, have been working hard with the team all year to contact churches, organizations, businesses and individuals to set up collection sites, coordinate shoebox packing and ask for ongoing prayers for this project.

“We want to get everyone involved in the project,” says Melissa. Shirley is proud that, “in 2017, almost 39,000 shoeboxes were collected in our area of Washington, Sullivan, Hawkins, Johnson, Hancock, Unicoi, Carter and Greene counties.”

“There are so many stories of the impact of shoebox gifts on children,” Shirley explains. One story is that of Hermann, a child in Zimbabwe who received a shoebox gift years ago which included a book. He used the book to practice English and his life was changed forever. He now attends Milligan College.

Operation Christmas Child National Collection Week (Nov. 12-19) is coming quickly. However, there is still time to participate.

To pack shoeboxes: Each box should be labeled for a boy or girl for age ranges of 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14 years and should be accompanied by $9 to cover shipping and handling costs.

“You can use an ordinary medium-sized shoebox and fill it. They don’t have to be wrapped, but it makes it more festive and the kids often use the wrapping paper for decoration,” says Shirley. Sturdy plastic shoeboxes are also accepted and are available for purchase at Hobby Lobby and elsewhere. Shoeboxes CANNOT include candy or other food items, liquids, toothpaste, nail polish or war-related toys or items. She adds, “Each box is checked before it is delivered and if something is not acceptable, it will be removed and replaced with something which is.”

Shoebox drop-off locations are located throughout the Tri-Cities. Shoebox gifts can also be packed online for a $25 donation. “You can actually keep track of where your shoeboxes are going online,” exclaims Melissa. Called “Follow Your Box,” you can go online and make a $9 donation and print your shoebox label with a bar code. Attach the label to the box and then track where your shoebox is delivered online.

To get more information, find the nearest drop-off location, pack a shoebox online, print labels for your personally-packed shoebox gifts, order plastic or cardboard boxes, and track your gifts to their destinations, visit www.samaritanspurse.org and click on the Operation Christmas Child link.