Once again Lynn Haven Baptist Church in Vinton is serving as a relay center for Operation Christmas Child.
Operation Christmas Child is an international project sponsored by the Samaritan’s Purse organization that sends gift-filled shoeboxes around the world to children living in the midst of poverty, war, disease, or natural disaster. Empty shoeboxes are transformed into “gifts of hope,” filled by donors with toys, school supplies, hygiene items, art supplies, hats, scarves, clothing, and other small items,
Area churches participating in the project will drop off their shoeboxes at Lynn Haven during National Collection Week, November 13-20, where they will be packed into cartons for delivery to Salem Baptist Church.
On November 20, State Troopers will then load the cartons onto tractor-trailers to be delivered to the Operation Christmas Child processing center in Boone, N.C. From there, the shoeboxes are shipped and delivered to locations around the world.
The Lynn Haven relay center on Washington Avenue is one of 5,000 located in the United States.
“We have an opportunity in Vinton to give these simple shoebox gifts that will make a lasting impact on children across the world,” said Lynn Haven coordinator Nancy Bowser, who has participated in Operation Christmas Child for over 16 years. “For many of these children, this shoebox is the first gift they have ever received. It sends a message that God loves them, and they are not forgotten.”
This is Lynn Haven’s third year to be designated as a relay center; members have been packing the shoeboxes for many, many years.
The volunteers at the church have been collecting items for the shoeboxes all year. Over 20 volunteers participated in a “packing party” on Saturday, November 11 to divvy those items up between about 100 shoeboxes. Organizers had set up an assembly-line type system the night before to help the process go smoothly and quickly.
The custom has been for members of the congregation to bring shoeboxes of gifts they have already packed on their own at a designated worship service where the boxes are placed on the altar as “Joy to the World” is played.
Bowser said that last year Lynn Haven packed 1,701 boxes received at the relay center in crates that were sent to Salem, and then on to North Carolina.
Lynn Haven members themselves filled 360 shoeboxes in 2016; their goal this year is to pack 400.
The Roanoke Valley/Alleghany area project coordinators hope to collect more than 13,200 shoebox gifts towards the 2017 global goal of reaching 12 million children in need.
Shoeboxes are packed with a certain gender and age group in mind, ages 2-4, matched up to be age and gender specific. No liquids, food, toothpaste (it might be eaten), breakables, or war toys are permitted. Toothbrushes are allowed— one child in an orphanage who received a toothbrush in her shoebox was overjoyed that she no longer had to share her toothbrush with 23 other children.
The boxes are wrapped in Christmas gift wrap, the lid wrapped separately so each box can be re-checked as it is processed to make sure it meets the requirements. Sometimes preprinted boxes are used which just require folding.
Participants are encouraged to enclose a note for the child destined to receive the box and to say a prayer for the recipient. They are also asked to enclose $9 to cover shipping and delivery costs.
Participants are asked to select a “wow” item to enclose with the other gifts in the box. Lynn Haven senior Sue McMillan sews some of those special items by hand— girls’ dresses which have pockets where she places a baby doll. She also makes Teddy bears and stuffed toy frogs for the shoeboxes.
She has made 32 dresses this year in three sizes, along with 30 Teddy bears, and several frogs.
“Sue has such a sweet spirit and loves doing this for the children who will receive boxes,” said Bowser.
McMillan says that she has been sewing for years. In fact, her husband bought her first sewing machine right after they were married, which was about 60 years ago. The McMillans now have three children, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
She initially used her leftover fabric from years of sewing to make the dresses. Then other women with accumulated fabric donated theirs to the project. Some material came from Goodwill. She cuts out several dresses at a time, using from a yard to one and a half yards per dress, depending upon the size. The dolls are bought in bulk from Dollar Tree.
She says she used blanket material to make the Teddy bears and then decided to experiment with making the stuffed frogs.
McMillan says that sewing the dresses and stuffed toys helps pass the time and she loves it. Her husband is disabled so they stay in quite a bit.
Other church members have made fringed fleece scarves and crocheted hats as shoebox gifts.
Katie Saunders attended the “packing party” at Lynn Haven on November 11 and helped check the boxes before they were secured with rubber bands for packing in cartons to be taken to Salem. She grew up in Lynn Haven Baptist and had an interesting story to tell about one of the shoeboxes she packed years ago.
In 2003, she took part in a 10-day mission trip to Armenia with First Baptist Church. The last day of the trip was not going well; she and her fellow missionaries were not being well received in the community where they were knocking on doors to share their faith. In fact, they had some doors slammed in their faces.
According to Saunders, at the last home on the last day, a little girl opened the door and was so excited to see the “Americans” she had heard were in the area.
The small apartment was crowded with the girl, her parents and siblings, and members of her extended family. The child talked about a gift she had received from America several months before. She brought out a shoebox wrapped in blue snowman paper filled with gifts she had received.
Saunders recognized it as the shoebox she had packed— it contained a Beanie Baby Monkey she and her father had argued about placing in the box. The monkey apparently had become the child’s favorite toy. All were amazed when Saunders explained that she had packed the very box that the little girl across the world in Armenia had received.
“It was amazing to know that the gospel had been shared and the family came to know Jesus through a shoebox of gifts sent months before,” said Saunders.
According to Kris Stutsman, the Media Relations Coordinator for Operation Christmas Child for the Western Virginia Area Team, “Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world and, together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 146 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 160 countries and territories.”