While the official kickoff for this program is the third week in November, what many people don’t realized is that this is a year-round project and that it takes a while to package and ship these boxes to the children of roughly 130 countries.
“Distribution and background planning takes much longer,” said Paul Moyle, assistant district attorney at the district attorney’s office. Moyle sponsored Thursday’s Sunrise Rotary program from Operation Christmas Child. “They are just not able to do it all at Christmastime.”
Life Care Centers of America has been a strong and ardent supporter of Operation Christmas Child since 1995 and has sent five of its people on a recent trip to Peru to distribute the shoe boxes to needy children.
“They go to kids living in areas of war and poverty,” said Beecher Hunter, president of Life Care in Cleveland. But they are more than just gifts, these shoeboxes represent the gift of love. God’s love. And the message of the Gospel. “These children have no worries at this one moment in time ... to see their expressions of joy and love ... it can change their lives ... to feel how much God loves them.”
Just this past March, Tanya Mazzolini, director of corporate accounting for Life Care Centers of America, was one of the folks from Life Care that went on this annual trip to help disseminate shoe boxes full of donated gifts from the past holiday season.
But Mazzolini saw and experienced a world unknown to her before.
The unexplained drawings on the ground of images like big birds that can only be seen from high on a mountaintop or from a plane, the dusty roads that filled the air with choking dust, little if any electricity, outhouses, water only available two hours per day, the pride of a young boy because his home had three windows in it, the steep mountains, the tin houses, people dying of tuberculosis, the slums — these all made up the Peru Mazzolini saw on her trip this past March for Operation Christmas Child.
“And yet, amidst all this poverty, there was hope,” Mazzolini said. “And part of this hope was Operation Christmas Child.”
First thing in the morning the Life Care group would get on a bus and go to their first group to give out shoeboxes.
“One hundred and fifty kids would greet us,” she said. The children would also prepare their own presentation for the welcome visitors. “It would be a big celebration.”
In the afternoon, they would again get on a bus for a second event that day.
Mazzolini had many stories to tell of her experiences.
One pastor, for example, she said, requested 230 shoeboxes for his kids, but was told only 100 were available. So, the pastor asked the 230 kids to forego getting their shoeboxes and name 100 other children to get them instead. All 100 shoeboxes were given to other children because other children gave up their gifts.
“It’s controlled chaos,” Mazzolini said. “And part of our job is to love on them.”
Another little girl was so overwhelmed, she fell so deeply asleep, no amount of josling would wake her up.
Another story Mazzolini related, was about another little girl, Sondra, who got an Operation Christmas Child shoebox when she was 9. Her dad wasn’t at home because he had been sentenced to 12 years in jail as a political prisoner. After her experience with Operation Christmas Child, she became a Christian. In fact, her entire family became Christians. Sondra returned to one of the shoebox donation events that Mazzaolini was at to help give these showbox gifts to these other children.
And one young man, Eduardo — He was 13 at the time. — was getting into a lot of trouble. He had been kicked out of school. His mom didn’t know how to help him.
Mom is a Christian.
He never thought anyone would ever think of him and give him a shoebox full of gifts. He couldn’t believe it when he was one of the lucky few. He couldn’t believe someone from the someplace on the other side of the world, thousands of miles away, would do something like this for him.
Eduardo gave his life to Jesus from that moment on.
In fact, every child who gets an Operation Christmas Child shoebox also gets a nativity storybook and a possible chance to go to the Greatest Journey Program and get a Bible all their own.
That’s why Operation Christmas Child needs many more donations. There are so many more Eduardos out there needed to be reached.
“There are more children to be reached,” Hunter said.
Every place they visited, they went from the joy of giving, to the sadness of having to turn away, shut the door, watch faces peering in through the locked doors and windows of the children who couldn’t get one of these precious little shoebox gifts.
“It’s humbling,” Mazzolini said. “It’s quite humbling.”
So, if anyone would like to get a jump on donating boxes, Life Care Centers will be happy to start accepting donations of filled shoeboxes now.
Every year, many, many children are left waiting outside the doors of the meeting halls looking in because there weren’t enough boxes for all the children, even though donations have grown to roughly 200,000 boxes last year; 85 milliion over the past 18 years. But many more boxes are needed to fill the growing need.
If anyone is interested in donating, guidelines follow.
Most popular with the kids are the see-through plastic, shoeboxes available at many local stores — the kids love these plastic boxes — but regular cardboard shoe boxes will do just as well. Wrapping paper is not required.
Indicate on the box with a label whether the gift is meant for a boy or a girl and for what age group: 2-4; 5-9; or 10-14. Many who donate don’t donate as many boxes for the older groups, but they are definitely also needed.
Some gift suggestions include school supplies, toys, hygiene items, inflated soccer balls, hard candy and lollipops, T-shirts, socks, ball caps, sunglasses, hair clips, toy jewelry, Tootsie Rolls, flashlights with extra batteries, watches, mints, and gum, etc. Put all candy in a separate ziploc bag.
“What I would give to my own children,” Mazzolini said is how she decides what to pack.
But these children also dearly prize a photo, a letter, information about the person show sent them the package, where they live, what it is like where they live, and who the gift-giver is.
Include your $7 shipping cost per box inside the shoe box in an envelope on the top of the gifts or go online to pay. By going online, you’ll be able to find out exactly where in the world your specific package is sent.
For more information, to pay for shipping, print out downloadable labels, find out about volunteer opportunities, see videos, etc., access the website www.samaritanspurse.org. Operation Christmas Child can also be reached through 800-353-5949.
In other business:
— Kevin Mendel, pastor at Grace Community Church and Sunrise Rotarian, gave a blessing, thanks and honor in light of Memorial Day this coming Monday to those who have served and sacrificed in our Armed Services. The entire Sunrise Rotary sang a special tribute song in commemoration.
“Never take freedom for granted,” said Mark Rodgers, president of the Sunrise Rotary. “I’ve been in third world countries. Be thankful you’ve been born in America. I am.”
— As a reminder, the annual Sunrise Rotary Gala is fast approaching on August 25 and auction items are needed as soon as possible. For more information, call Rodgers at 310-3118.