A steady trickle of cars pulled up to the white canopy set in the parking lot of Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh to disgorge one or a dozen shoe boxes packed with an assortment of gift items for a child.
While the boxes’ destination might be the thankful, eager hands of a child in a desert village in Africa or a thatched hut in an Asian jungle, their first stop is the collection center at Trinity. Volunteers coordinated by Ron Sneed are receiving the boxes, wrapping them with two big rubber bands and identifying the boxes as appropriate for either a girl or boy if the donor has not already identified them as such.
This process is part of the massive Operation Christmas Child sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse that will send about 8 million gifts to children around the world this year. Since a Welsh couple first gave gifts in shoe boxes in 1989 the project has caught the imagination of churches throughout the nation, and North Carolina Baptist churches are as enthused as any.
Samaritan’s purse spokesperson Millie Giles said Christmas boxes are distributed through churches in 100 nations with which Samaritan’s Purse field personnel have relationships. Churches invite village families to a worship service, after which they will receive a gift box.
In many cases children also receive material for a 12-week discipleship course and a Bible.
At Trinity, volunteers on one of 22 shifts pack the boxes into 22x19x18 inch cardboard cartons and roll them onto a semi-trailer for transport to the processing center in Charlotte, the largest of six in the nation. Each carton holds 22 standard Operation Christmas Child boxes distributed by Samaritan’s Purse, or more typically, 14-16 regular shoe boxes of various sizes.
Many of the clear plastic boxes that entrepreneurs have produced specifically for this project nationwide show up, too. They have the added advantage of becoming a useful household utensil once its contents are delivered to a happy child.
Giles said Charlotte is expected to process 2 million of the 5.2 million boxes contributed by churches in the U.S. An additional 3 million gift boxes will be contributed from churches in 12 other “sending nations.”
During peak weeks in November and December about 1,000 volunteers work each of three 4-hour shifts daily at the Charlotte processing center. They check every box to be sure nothing inappropriate is included, and that each box has at least a minimum of goodies.
Sneed said he has heard from other volunteer leaders that the recent news of Samaritan’s Purse founder Franklin Graham’s million dollar salary — which he has since given up — has negatively affected shoe box donations this year, although gifts at the Trinity location are up. Giles said the pace of gifts in Charlotte also was up. This is Trinity’s third year as a collection center, and church members last year produced more than 1,200 boxes themselves.
Operation Christmas Child sprang from a shoebox ministry started in 1989 by a Welsh couple. They suggested the idea to Samaritan’s Purse, which got behind it and organized Operation Christmas Child in 1993.