Volunteers rally to Operation Christmas Child

DOVER — On the outside, they may just look like ordinary shoeboxes adorned with decorations. However, it’s what is packed on the inside that brings joy — and hope — to underprivileged children across the globe at Christmas time.

Calvary Church, at 1141 E. Lebanon Road in Dover, was buzzing with activity on Tuesday night as volunteers were packing those shoeboxes full of fun toys, stuffed animals, school supplies and hygiene items as part of the Samaritan’s Purse project Operation Christmas Child.

There were similar activities taking place at Calvary Wesleyan Church in Harrington, Anchor Church (Boys and Girls Club) in Milford and Smyrna Wesleyan Church during Operation Christmas Child’s National Collection Week, which runs from Nov. 18-25, in which Samaritan’s Purse collects the gift-filled shoeboxes at nearly 5,000 drop-off locations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

The volunteers at the churches in Kent County were hoping to collect more than 21,260 gifts to contribute to Operation Christmas Child’s 2019 goal of reaching 11 million children in need. Officials estimated that at least 50 churches were involved in the project between Middletown and Milford.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for kids to (enjoy the) privileges that we have that they don’t have the opportunity to get,” said Kendall Ellis, a senior at Caesar Rodney High School, who was filling shoeboxes at Calvary Church. “I think it’s a very smart idea to get everybody involved because something so simple can make other people so happy, and that’s something that we take for granted sometimes.”

The volunteers at the churches in Kent County were a part of nearly 500,000 volunteers worldwide — with more than 150,000 of those in the U.S. — that were involved in collecting, shipping and distributing shoebox gifts.
Bobby and Pam Babuca were in the middle of the frenzy at Calvary Church, coordinating both drop-off and packing events that were taking place simultaneously.

“We put them in cartons and there is a big tractor trailer outside that we load up and they go directly to Baltimore,” Mrs. Babuca said. “They are processed and then they literally get put on a ship and sent directly overseas to villages around the world where the shoeboxes are delivered.

Receiving the gifts from Operation Christmas Child.

“We don’t really know where they’ll go, they determine that in Baltimore when they get there. In the past they’ve gone to places like Rwanda, the Ukraine, and other places in the world predominantly in Africa, but they could go anywhere. There (are) 160 different countries that the shoeboxes get distributed to.”

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child, the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, has collected and delivered more than 168 million shoebox gifts to children in more than 160 countries and territories.
In 2019, Operation Christmas Child hopes to collect enough shoebox gifts to reach another 11 million children in countries like Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda and Ukraine. More than 10.6 million shoebox gifts were collected worldwide in 2018, with more than 8.8 million collected in the U.S.

Christmas carols played over the speakers Tuesday night at Calvary Church to set the mood of giving for the many volunteers who had gathered.
“It feels really good to be involved in helping with a project like this one,” said Dover’s Carmen Williams. “It certainly helps put me in the holiday spirit.”

Kathe Wagner has traveled abroad with her husband, Carroll, who is the coordinator for the project in the central Delmar region, and has seen first-hand the impact the shoeboxes have on children.
“It’s amazing being in Uganda and seeing the expression on a young child’s face who has never had a gift in their life,” Mrs. Wagner said. “They don’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas or anything because they are so poor, and you give them a gift that they’re blown away over it. On top of that they get a little booklet called ‘The Greatest Gift’ (about God) and it’s in their own language.

“They’re so overwhelmed by this that when you give (the shoebox) to them we say to them, ‘We want you to know that God loves you and we love you,’ and one little 11-year-old girl looked up to me and said, ‘Nobody loves me,’ and I said, ‘You listen today and then tell me that afterwards.’”

She added, “She changed her mind after she found out that somebody cared enough to pack a box half a world away that didn’t know her and there maybe was something in that box that she longed for. In Rwanda, where they don’t speak the language, (the thanks) was all in the eyes.

“One girl we had here from Ukraine was an orphan and she longed for little hair clips and she had real short hair. When she opened her box there was a full cart of hair clips and she put every one of them in her short little hair. She couldn’t believe that somebody knew what she wanted. It’s amazing.”

Samaritan’s Purse is an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham, son of legendary preacher Billy Graham. The organization works in more than 100 countries to provide aid to victims of war, disease, disaster, poverty and famine.

Eric Lapointe, who serves as a regional director for Operation Christmas Child, enjoys the annual endeavor because it’s something that families can participate in together.
“I love seeing the local community rally together for a global impact,” he said. “We see all ages getting involved – and more and more every year.”

Mr. Wagner has traveled to the villages that have received the shoebox gifts and said the reaction they get is nothing short of amazing.
“They’re just so appreciative and they want to give you back something,” said Mr. Wagner.

“The only thing they can do is sing and dance … and they’re good. It’s just amazing to see such a different type of culture. There was one boy in Africa who was rubbing (my wife’s) arms trying to rub the white off because he had never seen a white person in his life.”

Mrs. Babuca said not to be lost in the fun stuff contained in the shoeboxes is a book called “The Greatest Journey,” which is a 12-lesson discipleship program. Children learn from trained, local volunteers what it means to follow Jesus and share their faith with friends and family.
“We receive donations from the community and other local businesses,” she said.

“What we have done is we’ve set it up so that each person that comes in has the ability to go through the process of watching a video to understand the big picture (of the charity event), like how we are reaching out to these children and they get to receive the gospel.
“This is something than means so much to so many children. I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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