Over 14,000 children across the world will receive a Christmas gift this year thanks to the efforts of local churches.
First Baptist Wylie served as a central drop-off location for Operation Christmas Child, collecting a grand total of 14,560 shoeboxes filled with toys, toiletries and school supplies.
“Operation Christmas Child is a project of the international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, which is led by Franklin Graham,” said Matt Smith, central drop-off coordinator. “We pack these shoeboxes and then they’re shipped all around the world to kids affected by war, poverty, natural disaster and famine.”
Since the project’s inception in 1993, 157 million gifts have been delivered in over 160 countries. There are 10 other countries that also ship shoeboxes. This year’s goal is for the U.S. to send 9.1 million gifts.
National Collection Week lasted Nov. 12 to Nov. 19, but last-minute boxes are accepted at any of the eight distribution centers across the country, including one in Dallas.
According to Smith, the community dropped off so many boxes that it took three trailers to haul everything to the distribution center. ABF Freight donated the trailers, and church members, the Wylie High School soccer team and the Plano East band helped load up the boxes.
The typical box includes one “wow” item like a doll, stuffed animal or soccer ball with pump. The rest is filled with toys, socks, hair accessories, school supplies and non-liquid hygiene items. Toothpaste and candy are no longer allowed.
“People are encouraged to put a note in the box,” Smith said. “Pretty much everyone I’ve met who received one said that note was the most precious thing they received. There was a guy who grew up in a Russian orphanage, and he said that note was the first time anyone told him he was loved.”
Packers choose a boy or girl, and then the age range. Children are split into three groups: 2-4 years old, 5-9 years old, and 10-14 years old.
Smith has found that the average box costs about $10 to fill, plus a $9 shipping fee. His family collects throughout the year and takes advantage of big sales.
Although some volunteers work year-round on Operation Christmas Child, most of the planning at First Baptist Wylie begins in October. Staff members order the boxes, set up booths at local events and work to spread the word. All the preparation leads up to National Collection Week, held each year during the third week of November.
The Wylie church was involved with collecting boxes in 2017, but this was its first year to be a central drop-off location. This meant receiving shoeboxes from the surrounding communities as well as from cities as far as Greenville.
During the collection process, Smith and his team met several packers who had received shoeboxes themselves.
“This year a lady came in with her daughter and said she had received one in El Salvador, and told her daughter that they had to pack a box because it was so precious to her when she was little,” Smith said. “I met another lady who grew up in a country she couldn’t mention, but she received a shoebox 20 years ago. She’s a teacher in California now but she still has her box. The guy who grew up in the orphanage talked about having his own bar of soap, and he kept it under his pillow. It breaks your heart how the things we take for granted can make a lasting impression on someone.”
The missions team at First Baptist Wylie – Jon Bailey, Robert Watson and Debra Tobolka – helped Smith organize this year’s event. Susan Seibert, area coordinator for south Collin County, also played a major role in making the project successful.
Other ways to get involved are volunteering at the DFW distribution center, becoming a prayer partner or by donating money at samaritanspurse.org.
“It’s a way to share God’s love in a tangible with someone you may never meet,” Smith said. “It’s really impactful how precious these boxes are to these children. We can’t all be missionaries, but this is something we can all participate in.”
By Morgan Howard • [email protected]