I have heard about Operation Christmas Child for years but never participated in this Samaritan’s Purse outreach that delivers toys, clothes, hygiene items and school supplies to children around the world and to children living on Native American reservations in the U.S.
This year was different. Lee Davis of ClearView Community Church reached out to me after reading an article I wrote for The Chaffee County Times about Choose Life Toymakers. ClearView is the local collection point for Operation Christmas Child, and Lee and his wife Sandy are the local representatives. I was eager to give some of our toys to them for shoeboxes.
I delivered 300 of our small wooden toys with wheels to the church and found volunteers sitting around a table folding festive cardboard shoeboxes. This was when I started to learn the inside story of Operation Christmas Child. I left with 40 unfolded shoeboxes to take to my church, St. Rose of Lima. St. Rose parishioner Dorothy Distel helped me fold them and put one of our toys in each shoebox as a starter gift. We were hoping that at least 40 parishioners would take one or more shoeboxes to fill for a child.
Lee and Sandy came to the weekend Masses at St. Rose of Lima Parish on Oct. 16 to give a presentation. Their amazing statistics and stories of kids who have received shoeboxes melted hearts. We ended up distributing 125 boxes and wooden toys at St. Rose.
I went to ClearView to help on collection day when people from Salida, Cotopaxi, and other nearby areas turned in their shoeboxes. We prayed over the boxes and then put as many as would fit into special cartons and taped them up. All told, more than 1,200 shoeboxes were collected from Chaffee County churches, Lee reported.
“An additional 62 cartons were added from another drop off center in Woodland Park and taken to a central drop off in Colorado Springs. From there, shoeboxes were loaded in tractor trailers for transport to the Denver Processing Center,” he said.
I had to go to that processing center to see the big picture. It was big — and incredibly organized.
Volunteers were everywhere, scurrying around like Santa’s helpers. Everyone knew their assignment and carried it out efficiently. Someone ran a forklift to move the cartons to the tables where people like our group from Buena Vista processed them. Each of the 24 stations had a mentor who explained the system and worked with us.
The routine was: Take a shoebox from a carton. Open it and remove inappropriate items like liquids, war related items. Any money that was enclosed for shipping was placed in a separate container. Then the box was passed to someone who taped it shut. From there the shoeboxes were scanned and sorted according to boy or girl and three age groups, put back in the cartons and stacked to be sent to the children.
According to the Operation Christmas Child website, “Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child, the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, has collected and delivered more than 188 million shoebox gifts to children in more than 170 countries and territories.”
Our little operation in Buena Vista seems small compared to this. But each gift becomes part of an amazing outreach.
On Dec. 16, the last shoebox was processed at the Denver warehouse and 780,000 boxes headed for Mexico, Haiti and Zambia.
For more information about Operation Christmas Child: https://www.samaritanspurse.org.
For more information about Choose Life Toymakers: www.chooselifetoymakers.com.
(Mary Lee Bensman is founder of Choose Life Toymakers.)