Operation Christmas Child season is in full swing as local OCC volunteers pack shoeboxes for children throughout the world to receive by Dec. 25.
“The purpose of Operation Christmas Child is to pack shoeboxes filled with toys, toiletries, school supply items and be sent to children in international countries that have suffered through war or poverty or natural disasters,” local OCC drop-off leader Heather Larson said.
OCC started in 1990 when Dave Cooke of North Wales saw a need of Romanian orphans. Cooke called on friends to load a truck with toys and drive it to Romania. Over the years, the operation grew and in 1993, it became a part of Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, an international aid organization.
“What we want to do with Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes is show God’s love in a tangible way,” Larson said.
“They like to have a wow item in each box,” Larson said. Examples of “wow-items” are a soccer ball with a pump, a doll or a stuffed animal.
“Then you fill it in with smaller toys,” Larson continued. Matchbox cars, finger puppets and marbles are examples of these.
Hayley Hayes, a West Institute Seminary student in Laramie, packed 16 boxes over the last couple weeks.
“For one of them I put a bear in it,” Hayes said about one of the wow items she included. “For another kid, I put My Little Ponies in there for a girl as the wow item.”
The boxes are divided into age groups for children 2-4 years, 5-9 years and 10-14 years. Hayes said she packed different wow-items depending on the age of the box recipient.
Aside from toys, hygiene items like a washcloth or toothbrush, as well as school supply items like crayons and a notebook, are also important. The only things not allowed in the shoeboxes are food, liquid, candy and war-related items. OCC also encourages a donation of $9 with each box to help with shipping cost.
“We like to have a picture and a letter in each box so the kid knows that someone specific cared enough about them to give them this,” Larson said.
“For my letter, I put who I am, where I graduated from university, why I’m in Laramie, getting my degree in seminary, and I wrote a verse from Psalm 73,” Hayes said about the letter she wrote. “I just wanted to encourage them to know that I was praying for them.”
Hayes included a photo of herself and her roommate.
“It was a picture of us in the snow because that describes Wyoming well,” she said.
Hayes added her e-mail address and home address on the letter in case the child wanted to write her back.
Larson told the story of her OCC teammate, Jana Ginter from Burns, who ten years ago received a letter from the recipient of one of the shoeboxes she sent. Ginter looked on Google Maps for the address of the letter, which showed her that the recipient lived in a landfill area in Manila.
Now, ten years after Ginter received the letter, the area by the dump “has a church and a clinic, where they minister to the people that live there,” Larson said.
“We’ve received letters from people who’ve gotten a box in Mexico and the Philippines,” Larson said. She said many of the boxes that leave Laramie often end up in Mexico and the Philippines.
When the shoeboxes are distributed, children will also receive a booklet called “The Greatest Gift.” The booklet tells the story of Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world and rising again. The booklets are published in 65 languages, according to the Samaritan’s Purse website.
Larson is one of two year-round volunteers in Laramie. She acts as a drop-off leader, making Laramie a drop-off place for OCC shoeboxes. The other volunteer is OCC’s church and community relations leader, Kylee Harless.
“We’ve had a drop-off center here for 12 or 13 years, but I’ve been the drop-off person for 11 years.” Larson said the amount of shoeboxes Laramie sends greatly increased when a drop-off center became locally available. Before, church groups drove the boxes to Cheyenne.
The shoebox goal for Southeast Wyoming this year is 10,500 boxes, with a goal of 1,700 from Laramie. Last year, about 1,500 boxes were sent from Laramie.
It’s not too late to pack your own shoebox. To get an official OCC shoebox, you can go to the drop-off location at the times listed and get one from Larson. You may also use a shoebox-sized plastic box or a shoebox from home. When you’re done packing, bring it to Larson during the drop-off times listed at 4801 Quarterhorse Drive, Laramie Valley Chapel.