Operation Christmas Child…It’s Time to Pack Shoeboxes

Every year my daughter and I participate in Operation Christmas Child. We collect items throughout the year and pack them into shoeboxes for the good people at Samaritan’s Purse to deliver to boys and girls in need who live all over the world. Operation Christmas Child began in 1993 with the mission of demonstrating God’s love in a tangible way and sharing the Good News of Jesus.

I began packing shoeboxes when my daughter was a year old and with each passing year she has become more involved. My daughter just turned five so this year we packed five shoeboxes (in honor of her 5th birthday). She even used some of her birthday money to buy Barbie dolls for the boxes. I am happy she has been called to care and is growing up sharing her blessings with others.

Sorting out items for the shoeboxes.

How to Pack a Shoebox- Samaritan’s Purse has a step by step guide on how to pack a shoebox. I’ll outline a few tips I’ve picked up over the years.

Step 1- Find a Shoebox- Although any cardboard shoebox will work, I’ve read that the children often view the physical shoebox as a treasured gift. This year I used plastic shoeboxes. Three of our shoeboxes came from Hobby Lobby and are specially designed with the Operation Christmas Child logo printed on inviting red and green plastic boxes. I also used two clear plastic shoeboxes that I purchased elsewhere. Last year I picked up some complimentary cardboard shoeboxes with the Operation Christmas Child logo and branding at our local Chick-fil-a.

Having fun shopping for items to include in our shoeboxes.

Step 2- Girl or Boy?-  Although many of the items we pack can be enjoyed by all children, Samaritan’s Purse will ask you to identify if the shoebox was packed for a boy or a girl and what age category. The age categories are: 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14; with the oldest group typically being the one to receive the least donations. We pack boxes that correspond with my daughter’s current age so this year we are packing boxes targeted at the 5-9 age group.

Step 3- What To Pack in a Shoebox?- I keep a big box in our basement labeled “Shoebox Items” and go bargain shopping throughout the year. I scored school supplies for 75% off at Wal Mart, got discounted playground balls at the end of the summer from Walgreens and often pick up discounted items in Target’s dollar area when they change seasons. You can locate some outstanding items during after Christmas sales at all stores.

Samaritan’s Purse recommends packing a WOW item in each box. This could be a doll, stuffed animal, soccer ball with pump or a new outfit. Older children enjoy simple tool sets and expandable shoes. Click here to view  gift suggestions by age. Amazon has a nice list of shoebox items as does Hobby Lobby. Besides toys we always pack self care items (a bar of soap, washcloths, combs, brushes, colorful band-aids, socks, hair clips and or bows, and toothbrushes.) Liquids and edible items are not allowed so you have to leave out toothpaste, candy and bubbles! We also include crafts and activities (crayons, pencils with a pencil sharpener, markers, pads of paper, coloring books, puzzles, and stickers.) You can also write a letter to include in your box. My daughter enjoys drawing a special picture and writing a note telling the children that Jesus loves them!

Step 4- Pray- Perhaps the easiest thing to do is pray for the children who will be receiving the boxes you prepared. Pray that the boxes will bring them joy and that by hearing the Gospel they will be filled with hope and encouragement.

Step 5- Follow-Your Box Labels- The cost to ship a box is $9 and you can click here to pay for labels that will track your box. Last year a few months after Christmas we received an email informing us that our boxes went to Mexico. We located Mexico on the map so my daughter could see where our shoeboxes had traveled to.

Step 6- Drop Off Your Box- Collection week is always the third week in November. Several churches and other organizations volunteer to be drop off facilities. This year collection week is November 18-25, so you still have plenty of time to pack a few shoeboxes! The Samaritan Purse’s website has a place where you can search for the drop off location closest to you!

Other Ways to Help?- If you would like to help but don’t have time to gather items and pack a shoebox you can save time and pack one online by clicking here or donate money to cover the $9 shipping. People will often pack shoeboxes but not include the money for shipping.

Whether you pack a few shoeboxes, volunteer at a processing center (like my in-laws), pray for the children receiving the shoeboxes or donate money for shipping, I hope you will make Operation Christmas Child a family tradition. For many of the children, the gift-filled shoebox is the first gift they have ever received. In addition to the shoeboxes all of the children will hear about the greatest gift of all…Jesus!

 

 

Silent Night, Holy Night.. a Two Hundred Year Old Song of Love and Peace

Perhaps the most recognized Christmas carol of all time, the beautiful song “Silent Night” turns 200 this year. With its soothing melody and tranquil lyrics, the song brings hope to us all.

Silent Night the Book– The words “Silent Night” have also been used as the title for several picture books. We found this one at the library.

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. All the animals gather together, silent, harmonious, happy forever. The much-loved Christmas carol, “Silent Night,” comes alive in this beautiful story written by Juliet Groom and enchantingly illustrated by Tim Warens.

Lillian and I enjoyed reading this rhyming book based on the song, “Silent Night.” The story features a bear cub and its mother as they walk through the woods on a calm winter’s night. Along their path they encounter animals living in harmony with their natural surroundings while others are deep in their winter slumber. On the last page the mother and cub marvel at the awe-inspiring beauty of a bright star illuminating the night sky. The book is a beautiful story to read with your little one.

Silent Night the Song- Joseph Mohr, a priest from Salzburg, and Franz Xaver Gruber, a teacher from Upper Austria, sang the song for the very first time at the St. Nikola Church in Oberndorf near Salzburg in 1818. The original poem was authored by Joseph Mohr, whereas Franz Xaver Gruber added the melody on his request. Today, the song “Stille Nacht” is performed in over 300 languages and dialects and has been recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby and Justin Bieber!

As a musician I get the pleasure of performing the song multiple times every year with the various ensembles I perform in. But the greatest happiness comes when I sing the song at the conclusion of the candlelight service on Christmas Eve at church. It is something I anticipate every year. As the sanctuary’s overhead lights dim, the church illuminates with a warm glow from the small candles carefully held by the congregation. As the light from the candles illuminates my face and the words “Silent night, holy night,” flow freely from my lips, my heart overflows with radiant joy. For the song reminds us all of the greatest gift we will ever receive… Jesus!

“Silent Night, Holy Night! Son of God, love’s pure light. Radiant beams from Thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,

Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Away in a Manger

My dad collects nativity scenes. He has around one hundred different sets in various sizes and they are crafted from a dozen different materials. Each holds a story and a special place in his heart.

A medium sized set made out of paper mache sits illuminated under the big tree in the living room. It was dad’s first nativity and was a special gift from my mother on their first Christmas as a married couple. The figures, so delicate and carefully painted in rich color, mesmerized me as a child. From the angel spreading her glorious wings and proclaiming the good news on top of the rustic stable to the shepherd carrying a lamb over his shoulders, no doubt exhausted from a long journey. To the three wise men adorned in gold to a kneeling Mary dressed in blue, gazing lovingly at the innocent baby lying in a manger. As a child I would carefully sneak on top of the piano bench (during my childhood this nativity was placed on the grand piano) and I became lost in the scene; trying to visualize that marvelous first Christmas when Baby Jesus, our Lord and Savior was born. This nativity set, now forty-nine years old, is a treasured part of his collection.

The newest nativity found its place in his collection a few days ago. It was a gift from church friends, Ron and Judy Schield. This nativity is crafted from olive wood, each figure carefully carved by hand. It was made in Jerusalem and was acquired by their son when he made a visit to the Holy Land. Their son passed on a few years ago and my dad was deeply moved when the Schields generously gifted him with the nativity, a beautiful possession from their talented son who was taken from this Earth far too soon.

Another special nativity is one my father gave to Lillian when she was one-year old. Unlike the others, which are delicate and meant to be admired from afar, this one is made of hard plastic and it is intended for play and exploration. We placed the Fischer Price nativity beneath our tree and Lillian is free to interact with the figures whenever she pleases. This nativity is musical and plays “Away in a Manger.” Lillian loves pressing the angel on top because it makes the star light up and then the music begins to play. The other day I noticed Baby Jesus was missing from the scene. When I asked Lillian where He was she replied, “He’s not there.” Lillian’s innocent words remind me that Jesus did not stay a baby forever. He grew up and died on the cross to save me and all that believe. But He didn’t stay in the tomb either, he rose again and one day I look forward to joining Him in heaven.

A few days ago a co-worker posted a picture of the same Fischer Price nativity. John assembled the set for his granddaughter to explore. In the picture, a penguin resides next to one of the wise men. When he inquired about the penguin his oldest granddaughter replied, “All are welcome.” Jesus, who was born in a manger, does not discriminate. All are welcome for those who believe.