Operation Christmas Child packs gifts for children abroad

MORRIS – More than 1,200 shoeboxes filled with everything from toys to toiletries to notes of joy will soon be on their way from Morris to underprivileged children in Madagascar, India, Zambia and Kenya, thanks to scores of kids and adults who gathered in shifts Saturday to pack the boxes.

The Christian Youth Center of Morris was filled with activity from dawn until well after the sun set as volunteers took part in an Operation Christmas Child packing event.

“I think she’ll be very happy,” 8-year-old Kaitlyn Weir of Manhattan said of the little girl who receives the box she packed. Kaitlyn attended with her Girl Scout troop.

Operation Christmas Child began in 1993 as a Christian mission to spread the word of God by giving gifts, personal care items and Biblical messages to poor children in Africa and other impoverished areas of the world. Organizers of the program, Samaritan’s Purse International Relief, work with churches and other ministry partners to coordinate the efforts.

The project began for Betsy Burnett’s family about 18 years ago, when Burnett heard about the program and wanted her children to participate. Her Morris family of six started by packing one box per child.

As time went by, she started keeping an eye out for items she thought would be perfect for the shoeboxes. She would save Happy Meal toys, buy at end-of-season clearances and pick up items here and there until her family was packing 40 to 50 boxes a year.

Her friends joined her, then she brought the project to her church, Our Father’s House of Prayer. Last year, the group branched out by putting the word out to Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, home-school groups and others in the community.

They were challenged by a young church member, Caleb Hobbick, to make 1,000 boxes, and they did. This year, they took on the same challenge and succeeded again. It took about 170 volunteers to do it.

My Father’s House of Prayer member and project volunteer Sharon Sanders noted that every box that left the packing event was prayed over.

“This is something hands-on they can do to directly touch someone. A lot of families do it as a family project,” Burnett said.

Xia Young, a Plainfield Girl Scout, said the group wanted to give presents to the children “because maybe they’ve never gotten presents before.”

“It’s fun, and you help kids,” said Emma Greenan, 11, of New Lenox. “This is the third year I’ve done it. I think they’re going to be really happy to get them.”

Prisilah Andrianavalona grew up in Madagascar and was a guest at the shoebox packing. She told those gathered how much the children in her country appreciate receiving the gifts, noting she helped distribute boxes a few years ago and was moved by the joy of the children.

Children in her country are thrilled with the smallest things, she said. A book, for example, is a big gift and a blessing. Before they distribute the boxes to the children there, though, she said they share the gospel.

“The United States is a big country,” she said. “And the American people love Jesus. You are blessed here, and you share these blessings with other countries. ... It’s very simple for the children here to do this, and they are very precious to the children in Madagascar.”