On the morning of Dec. 25, children across the United States will wake up, run downstairs and tear into the bounty left for them under the Christmas tree.
But for many children around the world, Christmas is just another day — no fancy dinner, no parties, no tree, no presents.
That’s where Operation Christmas Child comes in. The organization, which will hold its annual collection drive this week, makes sure every year that at least some of those children do get gifts.
For those lucky children, Christmas comes in a shoebox.
Goal: Eight million boxes
Operation Christmas Child was founded in 1993 by Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization. Since that time, 61 million gift boxes have been delivered to children in 130 countries.
The mission of Operation Christmas Child (OCC) is “to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ,” according to the organization’s web site.
The organization carries out that mission by collecting shoeboxes or other small containers filled with gifts — toys, toiletries, school supplies and more — and shipping them off to countries around the globe, countries ravaged by natural disasters, war, terrorism, disease, famine and poverty. This year, OCC hopes to collect 8 million boxes from five countries worldwide.
The boxes provide a gift for children who might never have gotten one before.
“This may be the only gift they receive in their entire lives,” said Glennifer Mosher, collection coordinator for the Liverpool collection center at Redeemer Evangelical Covenant Church on Morgan Road.
“It’s an eye-opener and a heart-opener when you hear that,” said Dominick Palumbo, coordinator for the five counties that make up the Central New York district. “It’s amazing what these boxes do.”
Indeed, the boxes have an impact.
“We had a lady from our church who was originally from the Middle East,” Mosher said. “She had received a box from OCC as a child, and she still had it. That’s how much it meant to her — she kept it for all of those years because it was the first gift she ever got.”
In addition to the gifts in the box, donors are asked to include a $7 donation, which covers not only the cost of shipping, but also the printing of a treatise on Christianity to be included with each box and follow-up discipleship programs in their home countries.
From your home around the globe
So how does it all work?
A number of different groups — most often churches, but also Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, schools and other organizations — pack boxes with goodies, labeling them with the gender and age of the child toward whom they are directed. The boxes are then taken either to the Liverpool collection center or to one of six relay centers in Auburn, Canastota, Eaton, Lacona, Oswego and Seneca Falls and then delivered to the collection center. Volunteers at the collection center pack the boxes into crates and load them onto a truck, which takes them to a national distribution center in Charlotte, NC. From there, the boxes are shipped to needy children around the world.
Last year, Liverpool’s collection center collected 9,685 boxes. This year, their goal is 10,000.
Making a difference with a shoebox
Lauren Kozma of North Syracuse, 18 and a freshman at Onondaga Community College, has been packing shoeboxes since she was 9. It’s something she’d recommend for everyone.
“I started doing it in third grade with my church,” Kozma said. “I just loved it. It became kind of a passion for me.”
Last year, Kozma packed 30 boxes, a number she hopes to surpass this year.
“It’s always really had an impact on me that this is all they get,” she said. “I really feel like I’m actually making a difference.”
That feeling motivates a lot of people to help with the organization, Palumbo said.
“There’s nothing like the sense in your heart of being able to help someone else,” he said. “I personally feel so blessed to be a part of it.”
Mosher said the desire to do good thrives, even in the current economic crisis.
“You’d think people would really be tightening their belts,” she said. “So many people are wondering how they’re going to put food on the table. But at the same time, they realize that there are other people in the world who have even less, and they want to do something for them. They want to make sure they have something to open on Christmas.”
Kozma summed it up simply.
“Everybody should participate in it,” Kozma said. “It’s such an easy way to change the world.”
For more information on sending a gift box or volunteering with Operation Christmas Child, visit samaritanspurse.org or call (800) 579-8083.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club’s Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.