Big Island volunteers collect gift-filled shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child
November 18, 2023, 12:00 PM HST
* Updated November 18, 2:42 PM
Monday, in the parking lot at Living Stones Church in Kailua-Kona, more than 20 volunteers gathered to collect brightly colored shoeboxes, filled with Christmas gifts and necessities, to ship to children all around the world.
Operation Christmas Child — created and run by Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization — collects and delivers shoeboxes to children in more than 170 countries.
“Children get to know that there is someone out there in the world who cares for me,” said Roy Vater, co-coordinator of the project at Livingstone Church.
Shoeboxes are filled with toys for children ages 2-14, and can be filled with a number of small toys, including: dolls, soccer balls and pumps, stuffed animals, musical instruments, personal care items (combs, toothbrush, washcloth), clothing, flip flops, hats, markers, crayons, notebooks, stickers, pencils, building blocks, Slinky’s and finger puppets.
“A lot of lives have changed because of this work,” said Linda Churches, head of media support at Operation Christmas Child. “One girl got three toothbrushes in her box because she always had to share a toothbrush with someone. That shows you the impact a small box can have.”
She added: “I usually buy a towel and a washcloth because some of them have never had their own washcloth.”
Volunteers can track where their shoeboxes go.
“That’s the coolest part,” said Robbie Sera, a local volunteer at Livingstone Church. “They stagger all the boxes throughout the year, so some of them don’t get delivered until the Spring. Some of my boxes went to Peru, South America, Africa, all over the world.”
The collections kick off National Donations Week. Participants can drop off their gift-filled shoebox at Living Stones Church or at the 5 other locations on the Big Island: Overflow Church, Nā‘ālehu Assembly of God, First Assembly of God Hāmākua, Hilo Missionary Church and Puna Covenant Church. (The hours of operation differ for each location).
Volunteers greeted participants in the parking lot to collect the shoeboxes and check to make sure the shoeboxes were full. If they were not, they added locally-made dresses and shorts. the shoeboxes were loaded into a shipping container that was donated by Matson.
Since its inception in 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 209 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children all across the globe. Last year, the project collected more than 10.5 million shoeboxes, with 2,500 coming from the Hawaiian Islands.
The collection goal this year?
“That’s up to God,” Vater chuckled. “We have not set a goal this year. The national goal is 11.3 million boxes, and we try for a 10% increase each year. But we don’t get hung up on the number. We get what God leads to us.”
Participants can also purchase a shoebox online for “hassle-free shopping,” according to Samaritan Purse’s press release.
“Most people don’t think they have time to make a shoebox; sometimes people will just donate money or drop off items, bags of socks, toys, school supplies,” Churches said.
After National Donation Week is over, local churches ship their containers to one of three processing centers in the United States. Thousands of volunteers serve annually at the processing center, inspecting and preparing shoeboxes for international shipping. Every hour work stops to pray for the children who will receive the boxes.
This year, Operation Christmas Child is encouraging people to put a photo of themselves and a story into the box.
“The kids love it, and people have received letters back,” Vater said. “We don’t get to hear all the stories, but we know of one box that started pen pals, and the participants went and adopted the little boy. Not only does it impact the recipient, but the volunteers can make a connection with the child. We see a high percentage of people will come back and adopt a child they make a connection with.
“That’s what these boxes are. They’re vehicles to connect people with each other and with God. That’s Love.”