Hundreds of underserved children in the U.S. and throughout the world will receive a gift box this Christmas, thanks to an organization called Samaritan's Purse. Since 1993, the nondenominational evangelical Christian organization has coordinated Operation Christmas Child, an international effort to deliver gift-filled shoe boxes to children throughout the world and "to demonstrate God's love in a tangible way."
Getting boxes into the hands of children is a massive volunteer effort. The third week of November is National Collection Week. On Saturday, Christy Harding was manning the North Fork relay station at Paonia Friends Church, where almost 500 boxes were awaiting delivery on Monday to a collection center in Grand Junction, and more were expected before the weekend was over. From there the boxes will be taken to the regional processing center in Denver, where they'll be shipped out on semis to the next phase of their trip, and ultimately to their final destination.
Boxes, either shoe boxes, plastic bins, or custom boxes provided by OCC, contain age- and gender-specific items including school supplies, toiletries, wash cloths, bandanas, toys and hard candy. "From there, it's anything that's fun," said Harding.
Charlene Dorsey, with the Assembly of God, helped deliver 253 boxes. Dorsey said eight members of the tiny church contributed to the boxes, shopping year-round for gifts and meeting regularly to sew denim jeans into billfolds and purses and to knit hats.
Dorsey wrote in an essay on the program that for many of the children receiving a box, "It is probably their first gift, in a simple shoe box." Watching videos posted at the Samaritan's Purse website she said tears came to her eyes during a video of an orphaned boy showing his excitement at getting his own toothbrush. "It touched my heart so deeply since my dad was raised in an orphan home in Missouri," she wrote.
Dorsey credits son-in-law and church pastor, Marvin Pemberton, and daughter Suelyn for introducing the small church to OCC. "They have been so encouraged and blessed by the momentum," wrote Dorsey. Last year, after delivering 190 boxes, they set this year's goal at 250.
According to the Samaritan's Purse website, in 2014, more than 10 million boxes were delivered internationally, including almost 8 million in the U.S.; since 1993 more than 124 million boxes have been delivered to more than 150 countries and territories through OCC. More than 4,000 drop-off sites exist in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
In addition to the Friends and Assembly of God churches, the Christian Fellowship, First Christian Church, North Fork Baptist and Bible Center churches all contributed. Other area churches participate in OCC. Calvary Baptist Church in Delta is also a collection site. The program isn't limited to November. Samaritan's Purse allows anyone to build a shoebox online throughout the year.
This year's boxes are headed for war-torn areas and to children living as refugees and in remote villages, said Harding. Many of the boxes delivered in the U.S. go to Indian reservations.
Deacon Kiya McIntire, head of Children's Ministry at Paonia Christian Fellowship, said she and her sister, Brittney Marshall of Ruidoso, N.M., have been filling boxes every year since they were little girls, and are now teaching their children about the boxes. Marshall was visiting for the holiday and helped with Saturday's delivery.
"Mom and Dad encouraged us to give at a young age," said McIntire." One of their best memories was when they were 7 or 8 years old and received a letter from a child in Latin America thanking them for the gifts.
Harding said that her two young daughters helped with the project and are learning about the gift of giving. "They're starting to get the picture," said Harding.