With the completion of Operation Christmas Child’s National Collection Week on Monday, South-Central Ohio Area Coordinator Barb Lanctot announced that between Adams, Brown, Clinton, Fayette and Highland counties, volunteers packed 14,520 shoeboxes, more than meeting the goal of 13,000.
”It was a great, great week,” Lanctot said. “When we saw the final number yesterday we were all excited.”
The final, nationwide count won’t be available until January, but in the meantime, Lanctot told The Times-Gazette that those interested in packing shoeboxes for next year’s National Collection Week should keep an eye out for sales.
”During the after-holiday sales, you can get all kinds of things: stuffed animals, clothes, toys, everything goes on sale. If you shop year-round and shop the clearance sales, you can put together some really nice shoeboxes at a very low cost,’” Lanctot said. “Start with praying that God will reveal to you how many shoeboxes you should pack. We always like to say, ‘Pack one more than what you just packed.’”
Lanctot said the ideal shoebox should have at least one “wow” item — something that when the child who receives the box opens it, their response is, ‘Wow, look what I got!’
”That could be a stuffed animal, it could be a deflated soccer ball with a pump and extra needles in there, it can be something as simple as a truck for a little 2-year-old boy,” Lanctot said.
For older boys, Lanctot recommends including items like hammers, screwdrivers, nails and screws, though she doesn’t recommend multi-tools because the shoeboxes can’t contain knives or knife-like items like saws. For older girls, she recommends a few yards of fabric, a pattern and other sewing materials.
“So now, for the girls and the boys, you’ve given them something so they can learn a trade,” Lanctot said. “The boys can learn how to be carpenters; the girls can learn how to be seamstresses. You’re actually giving them the tools for that.”
For younger children, Lanctot said that any kind of doll is perfect.
For all shoeboxes, Lanctot said school supplies and clothing are always appreciated.
“People always ask, ‘Well what about knit hats and gloves? You don’t want those to go to Africa.’ Now I can say with first-hand experience: send them,” Lanctot said. “God knows who’s getting that shoebox, and it does get cold in Africa in the winter.”
Lanctot, who visited Tanzania earlier this year to distribute Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, said that the experience showed her the other side of the shoebox.
”These children don’t have anything, so whatever is in their shoebox is going to be a ‘wow’ item. Some of them didn’t understand what was in the boxes was for them because they’d never received a gift before,” Lanctot said. “There was a little girl there who was probably 2 or 3. We were in our transport bus, and we kept looking at her like, ‘What in the world does she have on her arms?’ The bus stopped because we had to wait for the children to get out of the way because they didn’t want us to leave, so they were trying to stop us, and we looked, and we said, ‘She’s got socks on her arms!’ She’d received knee-high socks in the shoebox, but she was cold, so she put her hands in them, and she was so tiny the socks went all the way up to her underarms.”
In addition to the shoebox, each child receives a booklet called The Greatest Gift, which tells the children about Jesus. The children are invited to complete a 12-lesson discipleship program that tells them more about Jesus and teaches them how to share their story with others.
“It’s really remarkable to see that the children will sit there and read the book. While I was in Tanzania, one little girl had her shoebox in her lap. We noticed that while everyone was yelling and laughing and opening up their boxes, she wasn’t moving. We thought, ‘Uh-oh, maybe she didn’t get a baby doll or maybe there’s something in there that she doesn’t quite know what it is,’ so myself and the interpreter went over to her to see what was going on, and we called the pastor over as well,” Lanctot said. “She was looking through that booklet.
“She had completely blocked out everything going on around her. She hadn’t opened her shoebox yet, so the pastor tried to get her to open her shoebox, but she wouldn’t look at him because she was still going through The Greatest Gift. Finally, she got to the back cover, and she looked up. She had tears coming down her cheeks, and in Swahili, she said to the pastor, ‘My mommy and daddy need to see this.’ She couldn’t read yet, but she knew what the story was all about, and she knew her parents needed to hear that. And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s what Operation Christmas Child is all about.’”
Those who are interested but that missed National Collection Week can still pack a shoebox at samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/buildonline. Lanctot said people can pack shoeboxes online, which will then be packed by volunteers at the Operation Christmas Child processing center. But in order for online shoeboxes to count toward this year’s numbers, Lanctot said they must be packed by Dec. 31.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.