By Samaritan’s Purse Staff
This year, a global pandemic isn’t stopping families and individuals from packing gift-filled shoeboxes for boys and girls in the far corners of the world through the Samaritan’s Purse project Operation Christmas Child. Children need deep-rooted hope and great joy, now more than ever. Most important, they need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.
So, participants across the U.S. are prayerfully brainstorming ways they can pack shoeboxes with toys, school supplies, and hygiene items, even if the process looks a bit different than it has in other years.
Here are some creative ways that shoebox packers are carrying the mission forward this year despite COVID-19—from socially-distanced packing parties at church to teaching their children valuable lessons about generosity at home.
Prepped and Ready to Pack Calvary Chapel Salt Lake, a church of 2,200 in Salt Lake City, Utah, collects Operation Christmas Child shoebox filler items from local businesses and individuals year-round. They store the items, ranging from shoes and clothes, to flashlights and school supplies, in two shipping containers in their parking lot until it’s time to pack them into shoeboxes.
“Operation Christmas Child is a project God uses to bring kids to Jesus. It’s evangelism, discipleship, and multiplication,” said Alison Long, the Operation Christmas Child project leader for Calvary Chapel Salt Lake. “We need to be bold, we need to be brave, and we need to be a light.”
This year, the church is preparing shoebox bundles—complete with empty boxes and all the quality gifts necessary to pack them—that can be picked up at designated times in October. Families, neighborhoods, groups of coworkers, and friends can pack them at home and then drop them off again during National Collection Week from Nov. 16-23.
Just Family: Social Distancing at Church Since mid-March, Milan Baptist Church of Maynardville, Tennessee, has met for Sunday worship in their parking lot. Even though they are unable to gather in their sanctuary, they are opening up their building for shoebox packing.
The church is filling their fellowship hall with various items members have collected throughout the year and inviting individual families to sign up for a specific time to come and pack shoeboxes.
“When they walk through that door, I want them to focus on nothing but that precious child,” said Amie Winstead, who has served as project leader for the church since it began partnering with Operation Christmas Child over 11 years ago.
Parents and their children will fill shoeboxes with stuffed animals, soap and washcloths, and school supplies before making a stop at the letter-writing station and photo booth to include personal elements the child will love.
Prayer has shaped every part of how Milan Baptist Church is packing shoeboxes this year. They pray for each shoebox recipient, their country, the volunteer Operation Christmas Child leaders in that nation, the local churches that distribute the boxes, and even the logistics, such as the journey the shoebox takes to the various drop-off locations before heading overseas.
From Isolation to Inspiration If you and your family are self-isolating, there are still creative ways you can pack shoebox gifts. You can shop online yourself or create a shoebox item wish list on retail sites like Amazon to share with friends and family.
Amie Winstead is encouraging church members who are remaining at home to enlist the help of their neighbors to shop for the items on their lists or to fill pencil pouches with writing utensils to be packed into shoeboxes by the families at their church. Others are knitting hats to pack in shoeboxes.
Crystal Daggett of Topeka, Kansas, wrote on Operation Christmas Child’s Facebook page about her journey of packing shoeboxes at home:
“Each year after National Collection week, I begin praying for the following year. This year it was clear to pack 2,020 shoeboxes.”
Crystal wondered if the goal was even reasonable, but she sensed that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
“From using curbside pick-up, to taking advantage of stores going out of business, I have been using this time of isolation to party with God all year…which means 2,020 children will have the opportunity to hear the gospel,” she said.
Build a Shoebox Online In addition to organizing events with their churches, Alison in Utah and Amie in Tennessee are encouraging members of their community to Build a Shoebox Online this year.
In a few clicks from a computer or handheld device, the page allows people to choose items to include in a shoebox, complete with a letter and photo. Samaritan’s Purse will pack and ship the shoebox for a donation of $25.
She’s also going to use the new feature on the site and create a Goal Page for Calvary Salt Lake. By simply uploading an image or logo and an encouraging message, anyone can receive a link to their own custom webpage to share on social media. As the link is shared with others, groups will watch their goal tracker grow.
“We know that the world needs Jesus more than everything. Don’t let what’s happening with COVID-19 in 2020 cause you to neglect that calling. Just pack a shoebox!” said Amie.
Cultivate Generosity at Home Izabella McMillon is a spokesperson for Operation Christmas Child and a former shoebox gift recipient who now packs shoeboxes with her own children.
Growing up in Communist Romania, Izabella experienced the love of God when she received a gift-filled shoebox as a little girl. Today, she lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband Joel, and their two beautiful children, Kaleb and Naomi Joy.
Every year, Izabella uses the time spent packing shoebox gifts to teach her children important lessons about discipleship, generosity, and true compassion.
“As parents, we have been entrusted with the awesome opportunity and responsibility of shaping the hearts and minds of our children,” she said. “There is a big difference between doing something because you feel bad for someone and giving out of the motivation of true empathy.”
Together, Izabella and her family pray for the children who will receive the shoeboxes to know they are loved and not forgotten by God. Even in these uncertain times, she is encouraging other families and individuals to join in God’s global mission by packing shoeboxes—and involving their children.
“I am grateful that today I can shape my own children through the experience of giving back and loving others by packing shoeboxes, knowing that with every shoebox, another child’s life will also be shaped,” said Izabella. “The Good News of Jesus is in each shoebox that we pack, fueled by prayer, to change lives.”
Despite the challenges of the year, Samaritan’s Purse continues to share the eternal hope of the Gospel through Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts. The individuals and families who pack shoeboxes know that it is not about the fun items in each box but about the Gospel impact they have on millions of children each year. So, whether you pack a traditional shoebox, build one online, or give to the project in some way, each action gives a child the opportunity to experience God’s Greatest Gift—Jesus Christ.