Operation Christmas Child is distributing boxes, establishing drop-off sites and upping the ante in Carroll County this year.
The initiative seeks to collect small gifts in shoeboxes and distribute them to needy children across the globe. The nonprofit organization behind it, Samaritan’s Purse International Relief, has established an 18,000-box goal for Carroll and Frederick counties this year — 4,000 more than were collected in 2016.
Approximately 157 million gifts have been distributed to children in 100 countries because of Operation Christmas Child, which official began in 1993, said Dan Bonesteel, a volunteer spokesman for the organization.
First Presbyterian Church, Bixlers United Methodist Church, Elders Baptist Church and Taneytown Baptist Church are the designated drop-off sites in county limits. Drop-off sites will be accepting donations starting Monday, Nov. 12.
The organization asks that the shoeboxes be filled with hygiene items, school supplies and a “wow” item, like a stuffed animal toy. Gifts are to be geared toward specific age groups: ages 2 to 4, ages 5 to 9 and ages 10 to 14.
Boxes from each drop-off location are collected and taken to a distribution center in cities, like the one Bonesteel works out of in Baltimore. From there they are distributed overseas.
“If you can imagine 100 to 200 kids getting a shoebox for the first time,” Bonesteel said of his experience distributing gifts in the Dominican Republic. “Overjoyed.”
Laura Welker, the central drop-off coordinator for Frederick and Carroll counties, was on the trip with Bonesteel in 2014. She’s been involved in collecting boxes locally for around 15 years.
“After many, many years of collecting and doing things on this side of the box,” she said, “it was very rewarding to actually distribute shoeboxes and to see [the children’s] reactions.”
A little gift can go a long way, Welker said. She added she witnessed children elated to have received pencils as it was likely their ticket to education — no supplies, no school in many cases.
An American child might scoff at being gifted a shoebox with hygienic items and school supplies, said Joan Spangler, drop-off leader at First Presbyterian Church.
Spangler said she’d been to the Dominican Republic twice to distribute boxes and plans to go again.
“It’s amazing to see the joy of the children when they get these simple items,” Spangler said. “To see their excitement for simple gifts makes it worthwhile.”
Welker encourages the public’s involvement because it’s easy to help.
“What’s really great about the program is that anyone can do it,” she said. “Every single box represents a child and is important.”
Her church is hosting a packing party Sunday, where she said they’ve established a 1,000-box goal.
The mission isn’t exclusively altruistic, said Spangler, who has participated in Operation Christmas Child for six years — the last three as a year-round volunteer.
“The children get a box of gifts, but it’s a way to get to the children,” Spangler said. “The main mission is the gospel opportunity.”
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After children receive the common but crucial items, they are invited for a 12-week gospel course at their local ministries, Spangler said. Local pastors are trained as a part of the program to reach out to children and to invite them back to their ministries, she added.