Recently, 19 kindergartners from Tennessee Christian Preparatory School visited Life Care Centers of America’s corporate campus on Keith Street, their little hands carrying stuffed shoeboxes for children around the world.
It is the final collection week for the Samaritan’s Purse ministry Operation Christmas Child, and the young students were eager to do their part.
For weeks, the students and their teacher, Michelle Morgan, collected items to include in their shoeboxes. Items were donated by students and their families, and even local businesses got involved. Local pediatric dentist Chad Eslinger donated enough toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss for all of the boxes the class put together.
The youngsters were very aware of the difference their shoeboxes could make in the lives of children half a world away.
“You get to give them to people who don’t have anything,” said one student. Another added, “Because they don’t usually have presents.”
In addition to hygiene items, prized possessions in the boxes included toys, clothes, and school and art supplies.
For most of the TCPS students, it was their first time participating in OCC, but they were fast learners.
“The first thing is you need a cardboard box,” explained one student.
The next step? “Put stuff in it,” eagerly offered another student.
“Do you know what the last thing is you’re going to do when you’re making a shoebox?” asked another helpful kindergartener. “Put a rubber band around it.”
All great advice.
For these 5- and 6-year-olds, learning about serving others was the most important part of their participation in OCC, but they quickly learned that giving brings as much joy as receiving. They poured their time and energy into stuffing the shoeboxes, and when they delivered them to Life Care’s collection center, they were rewarded with cookies and hot chocolate with sprinkles.
Many of the kids said the delicious treats were the highlight of their trip, but for their teachers and parents, the lessons they learned through this project of service were the real prize. The experience sprouted roots of giving in them that will continue to influence the character of each child — and their influence in the Cleveland and Bradley County community — for years to come.
“A couple of years ago, we received a letter back from one of the shoeboxes we sent which was absolutely amazing,” shared Kathi Douglas, TCPS’ lower school principal. “It was from China. It was so neat to get that letter back, and I got to read it to [our students] in chapel and say, ‘See, it does make a difference. Somebody does actually get this!’ We love this project because it’s local yet worldwide.”
In the new year, Morgan’s class will continue its commitment to service by making cards and collecting needed items for troops. She is excited about continued opportunities for her students to help others locally and abroad.
“It will open their minds to new things, to not only think about themselves but about others,” Morgan explained.
“One of the core values of the school is service and opportunity,” said Douglas. “We want them to be thinking of a world outside of themselves, outside of Cleveland, outside of their families. There are kids halfway across the world who are just like them who like to play with toys and crayons and draw pictures. These are kids they can help, even though they’re only 5 years old.”
The 19 kids in Morgan’s kindergarten class did their part to make a difference in the lives of kids all over the world. Now, they’re encouraging others to do the same.
As if in unison, the class proclaimed, “Pack a shoebox. Make a difference. You can help others, no matter what your age.”
OCC shoeboxes are being collected at Life Care’s warehouse at 3001 Keith St., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Monday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday is the final collection day for the 2013 campaign.
For more information, visit samaritanspurse.org or call 423-473-5002.