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Churches collecting shoeboxes for needy

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    Pastor Gene Sherman blesses shoeboxes at Christ Church Westshore on Sunday.

    PHOTO PROVIDED

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Something as simple as a bar of soap may be the first gift they ever receive.

School supplies can be life-changing.

A toy? A miracle.

Operation Christmas Child aims to offer just that — a miracle, one shoebox at a time.

Churches, organizations and individuals shop, collect and pack shoeboxes meant for the Samaritan’s Purse project Operation Christmas Child, which delivers gifts and the word of Christ to children around the war affected by war, disease, disaster, poverty and famine.

Collection week takes place now through Monday at select locations.

Carol Stefano, who heads the effort at Christ Church Westshore at Calvary, has been putting together shoeboxes for several years, but this is the first time her church has served as a drop-off location.

“I love to give gifts and see the look on someone’s face when they receive it,” she said. “This is a different kind of gift. It is a gift for a child in need and the gift of Christ.”

The boxes are sent to many different countries, mostly in remote, impoverished areas.

Some volunteers, like 17-year veterans Chuck and Ann Palmer, have traveled overseas when the boxes are delivered. It is something that Stefano has not done but can imagine what it would be like.

“I’d be a big puddle,” she said. “It would be very emotional, overwhelming, wonderful.”

When Chuck Palmer, logistics coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, traveled to Uganda four years ago, he had never experienced anything like it before, he said.

“They had never experienced receiving a gift before,” he said. “No birthday gift. No Christmas gift. It was a totally different experience for them to receive something of their own. They would peek inside the box and close it back up. We would have to encourage them. Then, they might take one thing out, and close it back up again. There might be five or six or 10 items in there, and we would have to explain it was something they could have, something they could keep.”

Children might share items they had multiples of, like pencils or paper.

“In Uganda, the schools are built by the government, so they have nice buildings, but if the children don’t have supplies, they can’t go to school,” Palmer said. “One thing they need most is pencils and pencil sharpeners. A small, eight-count box of crayons cost a week’s wages.”

Organizers also try to make sure that each box contains a toothbrush, soap and washcloth — items that are often shared by children in orphanages, he said.

Palmer, who is a member of the North Olmsted Friends Church, participated in a packing party over the weekend, where parishioners and volunteers hoped to put together 1,000 boxes. The church also serves as a collection site.

Gerri Miller, 37, of Oberlin, has been involved with Operation Christmas Child since 2003, when she first heard about it in college. She brought the idea to Christian Unity Church in Grafton, and started packing boxes with the youth group. The next year, the entire church got involved. By 2014, they were acting as a collection site.

At Saturday’s packing party, the volunteers assembled 300 shoeboxes.

“It brings me a lot of joy to have an impact on an area of the world that I’ll probably never get to in my lifetime,” Miller said. “A child is going to open a gift that could bring changes with the gift and with the gospel of Christ.”

Last year, Christian Unity Church collected 800 boxes during drop-off week. If last year is any indication, the week starts out slow with more drop-offs toward the end of the week.

“A lot of places have packing parties during the week,” Miller said. “Last year, we had a lot on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I’m just excited to see how many boxes we get and to be able to interact with the people dropping them off.”

As a first-year collection site, Stefano isn’t sure what to expect at Christ Church Westshore.

“We will roll with it and see how it goes,” she said.

For anyone still interested in putting together a shoebox, it’s not too late. Ideal items include toiletries, school supplies, socks, small toys, books and puzzles. Gifts are needed for children ages 2 to 14. Gifts for boys ages 10 to 14 are especially needed, according to Stefano.

Participants also can donate $9 per shoebox gift online through “Follow Your Box” and receive a tracking label to discover its destination. Those who prefer the convenience of online shopping can browse samaritanspurse.org/buildonline to select gifts matched to a child’s specific age and gender, then finish packing the virtual shoebox by adding a photo and personal note of encouragement.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 146 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 160 countries and territories.

Contact Christina Jolliffe at 329-7155 or ctnews@chroniclet.com.

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