By David Klein
From November 16-November 23, Knoxville area residents dropped off thousands of shoe boxes at three collection centers for Operation Christmas Child, an organization headed by Samaritan’s Purse. The program donates school supplies, hygiene items such as toothpaste and toothbrushes, and toys to children from ages 2-14 to countries around the world.
According to the Samaritan’s Purse website, Operation Christmas Child has delivered more than 124 million gift-filled shoeboxes since 1993 to children in more than 150 countries.
This year, the Knoxville area collected 76,839 boxes according to Vicki Humphreys, Knoxville Area Coordinator for Operation Christmas Child.
“It went tremendously,” Humphreys said. “I’m very grateful for the generosity in our area and how much people care for the children.”
The other two collection centers were at New Market Baptist Church in New Market, Tennessee, and at Monte Vista Baptist Church in Maryville.
According to Humphreys, boxes donated in the Knoxville area will go to Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Mali, Peru, Philippines, Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Bahamas, Belize, Benin, Gabon, Ghana, India, Madagascar, Malaysia, Namibia, Paraguay, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & The Grenadines, South Africa, Uganda, Ukraine, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Once they leave Knoxville, shoebox gifts are taken to Atlanta, one of eight nationwide distribution centers. From there, planes and ships will distribute the boxes to the countries for the children.
Theresa Cooper, Community Relations Coordinator and a year-round volunteer, said there is a lot of planning that goes into Operation Christmas Child.
Cooper said the majority of the volunteers are year-round, and the planning starts in January. That’s when the nuts and bolts of the operation are put together. Volunteers discuss how many people are needed to volunteer, where the facilities are going to be, etc.
Cooper has been doing Operation Christmas Child for 14 years through her church at Smithwood Baptist where they pack boxes year-round.
She said that folks will put in as many items as they can fit into the boxes. She stressed that people should put a washcloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap in every box. Volunteers do not take anything out or put anything in.
For Cooper, it’s about providing Christmas to children. “This really is the only Christmas most of these kids get,” she said. “We’re not just touching the child; we’re touching the entire world by doing this.”
Mary Singleton, a seasonal volunteer, and member of Stockcreek Baptist Church, checked in the shoe boxes and then assembled them into bigger boxes for shipping. It’s her third year serving at the Expo Center.
“You can volunteer for any amount of time,” Singleton said. “My husband and I work all day most of the time,” she added.
Beginning in October, Singleton said her church starts encouraging people to get their shoeboxes in. “We have special prayer to dedicate those boxes,” she said.
Singleton will start preparing for the next Operation Christmas Child at the end of the year. “When Christmas is over, I’ll start buying toys,” she said.
“To imagine that child, opening the box that I filled, they’ve never had anything that was theirs, so that’s why I do it,” Singleton said.
Tori Ailor, another seasonal volunteer and a student at Carson Newman University, said her family just started working with Operation Christmas Child last year.
“I think it’s really cool, to be able to take time away to do something for others,” Ailor said. “I just think it’s a great cause.”
Ailor spoke about the impact of Operation Christmas Child. “I think it’s just really neat to see how big this really is and how many children really are affected. Packing shoeboxes at home is great, but if you just do one or two, I think it’s sometimes hard to get the impact, the real massiveness of this whole thing. This is just one of so many drop-off locations. Just seeing how many shoeboxes we have just come through here in one week, it’s crazy when you think about that, times how many other cities are doing this, it’s really huge when you think about how many children are getting a shoebox placed in their hands this Christmas. It’s really cool.”
If people were unable to drop off their boxes, for $15, they can go online and build a box year-round, Humphreys said. The price also includes the shipping.
To volunteer next year, local residents should e-mail Humphreys at firstname.lastname@example.org.