A shoebox might not seem like an extraordinary object, but through Operation Christmas Child, Summit County residents’ shoeboxes become a way to spread holiday cheer and donate much-needed items to children all over the world.
Operation Christmas Child is a program run by Samaritan’s Purse, a nonprofit, nondenominational evangelical Christian-based international relief organization. Samaritan’s Purse programs reach worldwide to areas affected by poverty, war and natural disasters.
This year, Operation Christmas Child is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Since its inception in 1993, it has delivered more than 100 million goody-filled shoeboxes to children in 130 countries. Last year, the program gathered 6.5 million boxes nationwide and 9 million internationally. In this anniversary year, organizers are hoping to exceed those numbers, aiming to collect 7.2 million shoebox gifts nationally and 9.8 million internationally.
Participating in Operation Christmas Child is easy and something anyone can do, said media relations associate Sara Littlejohn. Any shoebox or shoebox-sized plastic container will do. The shoeboxes will be sent to children between the ages of 2 and 14. The contents of the shoeboxes can be a mix of toys, school supplies and hygiene items for the children.
“(People can) head to their local Target, Wal-Mart, Dollar Tree, wherever they prefer to shop, pick up those pens, pencils, solar calculators, notebooks, stuffed animals, soap, toothbrush or tooth paste for either a boy or a girl age 2 to 4, 5 to 9 or 10 to 13,” Littlejohn said. Items that should not go into the boxes include liquids, foods, aerosol cans and war-related items like toy guns or military figures, she added.
Shoeboxes from Summit County can be delivered to the Dillon Community Church. Donations can be brought in through Sunday, Nov. 25. After that, the shoeboxes will go to the Denver processing center and from there to their international destinations. Boxes coming from Summit will most likely be sent to Mexico, Guiana and Togo, Littlejohn said.
Those who want to track their boxes can do so by going to the Samaritan’s Purse website and printing out a tracking number.
“It’s nice to know where it goes,” said Littlejohn. “We also encourage people to write little notes to the kids who receive their boxes, … and sometimes they write back.”
Once the boxes reach their destination, they are often delivered to the children by local community members.
“You will rarely see people from the U.S. giving these boxes out,” Littlejohn said. “Our reason for that is we want to partner with the local communities and leaders and churches and put these boxes into their hands to distribute to their community, to empower them. They are going to be the ones that stay, they are going to be the ones with those children, and we want to equip them to give those boxes out.”
Putting together a shoebox is an easy and cost-effective way to make a difference during the holiday season, she said.
“The most important thing is that this is such a simple gift that anyone, whether they’re a child, a parent, a grandparent, can do and it’s minimal cost to us, but something as simple as a pack of pencils to the children that are receiving these, changes their lives.”