Operation Christmas Child helps locals serve as the hands and feet of the Christian church around the world, Kathy McGuffin says, showing the love of Jesus Christ to children in scores of foreign countries every year.
On Monday, tables at Forest Home Baptist Church were laden with toys, mittens, hygiene products, Play-Doh, undergarments, school supplies, stuffed animals, play jewelry, drawstring bags and all manner of gifts destined to bring a smile to children’s faces wherever they live, whatever language they speak, whatever their creed.
Volunteers roamed between the piles of gifts, smiling gently as they shopped for a boy or girl, plucking out gifts for different ages and placing them in shoeboxes, bound for tiny hands around the world.
“Every box is prayed over as it’s packed,” said McGuffin, church relations team coordinator.
Initially, there were 17 volunteers on hand Monday – the crowd grew throughout the afternoon – as Forest Home cut the ribbon on its Operation Christmas Child collection site. The doors will be open daily through Nov. 20 as a drop-off point for boxes filled with gifts for children in need.
Veteran volunteer Kim Gore is eager to welcome new helpers to the project this week: “They can just walk in off the street and fill a shoebox” anytime the Kilgore hub is open (see schedule, inset), “or we’ll take monetary donations that will go toward shipping,” calculated at $9 per box: “You could not send it to Albania for $9, but Samaritan’s Purse can.”
Forest Home is one of 5,000 such locations across the United States acting as a hub for donations in the global ministry. According to Samaritan’s Purse, since 1993 Operation Christmas Child has crafted, collected and delivered more than 146 million shoeboxes to children from more than 160 countries and territories.
This year, the outreach aims to put shoeboxes in the hands of 12 million children.
First Baptist Church of Liberty City hosted a shoebox-packing party Saturday, one of numerous congregations here pooling their efforts to add to the local trove of gifts.
According to local organizers, “During the project’s National Collection Week, Nov. 13-20, Kilgore residents will transform empty shoeboxes into gifts of hope filled with school supplies, hygiene items and fun toys. Operation Christmas Child will deliver these shoebox gifts to children affected by war, disease, disaster, poverty and famine.”
After preparing 200 boxes in 2016’s initiative, this year “We’re hoping to get 300, just Forest Home Baptist Church,” Gore said.
They’ll add those to other local contributions from individuals, churches and organizations then transport the lot to the Longview hub at Calvary Baptist Church. From their, shoeboxes from throughout the area will be sent on to Dallas.
The Rev. Kelly Brian of Hickory Grove Baptist Church and others arrived Monday to drop off their shoeboxes at Forest Home. The gifts were pre-filled with a variety of items and labeled for boys or girls in different age groups following a Hickory Grove shopping spree and packing party, the congregation members enlisting children in the church to shop for Operation Christmas Child’s recipients and assemble the gift-boxes.
“16,411 is the goal for the Sabine River Area Team,” Gore noted, “which encompasses all of East Texas and some of Louisiana,” including Gregg County, Rusk, Harrison, Panola and Upshur.
Gore and McGuffin will lend a hand in the Metroplex processing center next week alongside other area volunteers: “It’s so cool,” McGuffin said.
Among the gifts, large and small, each shoebox includes a piece of Christian literature in the language of the recipient – whether in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America or elsewhere. Within the age-appropriate pamphlets about Jesus Christ and salvation, children can participate in a 12-week discipleship course and other faith-building activities, Gore said.
“For every shoebox that’s distributed, there’s a Gospel opportunity to reach 8 to 10 people.”
Forest Home has a variety of printed materials outlining how locals can assist with the project. Contributors can also learn more – including instructions on preparing shoeboxes – through SamaritansPurse.org/OCC.