Local Operation Christmas Child shoebox collections to begin Nov. 14

One of Sheila Richerson’s favorite activities this time of year with 8-year-old grandson Christian Watson is to make the upcoming holidays a little brighter for others.

For this pair that means collecting small toys and trinkets and packing them in a shoebox or two for less fortunate children across the globe as part of Samaritan Purse’s outreach known as Operation Christmas Child.

And, when they request it as they did last year, they are later notified where their boxes were shipped. Last year, that was to Ukranian children.

“Wow — you mean they’re playing with our stuff we sent even with the war (against Russia) going on?” Richerson’s grandson asked.

Actually, Samaritan’s Purse, specializing in outreaches even to war-torn nations, makes an extra effort to reach youngsters in such areas Local organizers of the shoebox collection for Operation Christmas Child are reminding area houses of worship and others that the collection deadline for shoeboxes to be shipped to the ministry will be Nov. 14 through 21 at Columbus Free Methodist Church, 1511 22nd St., where Richerson works, and also First Christian Church, 531 Fifth St. in Columbus.

Both places report that the overall collection of shoeboxes was down last year in a community that leaders regularly praise as generous. At First Christian, that’s about 1,000 fewer boxes than normal some years.

“Times are hard for many people,” said Christy Farrell, who coordinates the collection at First Christian as one of the area hubs. “And people are trying their best.”

Still, First Christian either collected or had dropped off 2,438 shoebox gifts, according to its figures.

Richerson is so committed to Operation Christmas Child that in 2003 she encouraged her military unit at Camp Atterbury to pack boxes.

Since 1993, more than 198 million boys and girls in more than 170 countries and territories have experienced God’s love through the power of simple shoebox gifts from Operation Christmas Child, according to Samaritan’s Purse’s figures.

The gifts make it to the children in poverty-stricken regions by bikes and boats, and even camels and donkeys. Video of youngsters opening their shoebox gifts show them overjoyed with everything from miniature dolls to simple balls, from school supplies to tiny toys.

The boxes mean so much to children across the world that the Samaritan’s Purse website is now filled with emotional video clips of international adults who received shoeboxes as a child — and the dramatic impact those gifts had on them and their view of Jesus and his love. One woman who went through foster care in Latvia mentioned that a shoebox opened her wounded heart to God as a young teen.

Inside the box, among other items, was a stuffed, plush mouse toy and a children’s booklet describing how God cared deeply about her. This stunned a girl who said she never really felt loved by an adult. So, the fact that a person across the world would take time for her on a holiday softened her defenses.

“I could not believe that a stranger could care and feel love for me,” the woman said as she recalled the shoebox. “That helped me to really pray for the very first time.”

Today, that young woman packs a shoebox every Christmas for youngsters like herself — and reminds them that they are loved by others and by God.

Many local parents through the years have mentioned that packing a shoebox with their own child has awakened their youngster’s awareness of how blessed and affluent most American children are at Christmas. And that realization has in turn triggered their added gratitude for what they have.

How to pack a shoebox

Go to samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child and follow the instructions and suggestions.

Where to bring your shoebox

From Nov. 14 to Nov. 21, you can drop off your shoebox to be shipped to either First Christian Church, 531 Fifth St. in Columbus, or Columbus Free Methodist Church, 1511 22nd St. To check hours for drop-offs, go to fccoc.org or columbusfreemethodist.com or go to samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/drop-off-locations and type in ZIP code 47201.