Operation Christmas Child is something my husband started participating in last year and enjoyed it so much that we went back this year and intend to continue for years to come. Initially, all of the packages came as actual shoe boxes. Now you see them in everything from priority mail boxes to brand-name plastic storage containers. Some of the plastic boxes are fun to sort, because they are packed with great care and creativity. For example, this year, some kind donor submitted five plastic boxes filled with toys and clothes and, instead of lining them with wrapping paper that would only end up discarded, lined them up with adorable colorful bandanas - something the kids would be able to wear and enjoy for some time. Unfortunately, those plastic boxes are harder to get into cartons (the goal is to have no fewer than fourteen boxes per carton) and the plastic lids sometimes crack or shatter from much handling and have to be taken to the "Box Hospital". So, Gerry and I prefer the old-fashioned shoe boxes.
The boxes tell more of a story, you see... When you work as a pre-sorter - the person who sorts out the monetary donations from the gifts - you actually get a chance to notice the details, like the size and the kind of the boxes. Some of the boxes are the traditional green and red Operation Christmas Child ones - they are packaged by the ministry volunteers when someone submits a box request on line. Some boxes are small - from children's shoes. Some are those huge square ones from boots or men's sneakers. There were brand new shiny boxes and some old ones, held together with packing tape. There were boxes from the kinds of shoes you have only seen in Sex And the City: Manolo Blahik, Jimmy Choo, Versace... There were some from George, Mossimo and Xhilaration - the mid-price brands I myself often wear. And then there were some without a brand, from discount stores or maybe even from Goodwill or Salvation Army.
Some of the boxes are filled with brand name toys and knick-knacks, Disney t-shirts, colorful pencils and cute little notepads with unicorns. Some have practical things - like warm socks, underwear, little first aid kits, with maybe a small soft toy, a basic Crayola set and a small journal or sketch pad. Some even have tools, like hammers and screwdrivers (these are usually designated for older boys). Many have adorable home-made items: knit scarves, gloves, hats, hand-sewn toys made of little bits of fabric and colorful buttons. Quite a few people include greeting cards, letters, photos of themselves and of the area where they live.
There is usually a prayer break in the middle of each four-hour shift. All participants are asked to pause, place their hands of the boxes they are working on at the moment and pray for the children, to whom the boxes are going. Samaritans Purse is a Christian ministry, and many of the volunteers are Christians. However, many are not. Volunteer opportunities at the warehouses and processing centers are not defined by religious affiliation - if you want to help, you are welcome to do so, and there is always plenty of work to do. During the prayer break, some follow a traditional Christian prayer led by one of the volunteers. Some chant quietly. Some meditate. Some simply keep their hand on the box and think good thoughts.
The shoe boxes tell their stories as do people who prepare them for their long journey. The fancy shoe boxes serve the same purpose as the plain ones. Christian prayers, Buddhist chants, Wiccan positive energy and good thoughts by atheists and agnostics are all meant for do the same thing. They all carry gifts and good wishes. And where and who from - doesn't matter. It's all good.