For most people an empty shoebox means someone received a new pair of shoes. For me it means another box to fill with gifts for Operation Christmas Child.
My family has supported the ministry of Operation Christmas Child since my oldest was a baby. Operation Christmas Child (OCC) sends gift filled shoeboxes along with the good news of God's love to children in need all over the world.
Boxes are filled with simple items that most of us would take for granted; soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, washcloth, comb, school supplies, small toys, stuffed animals, hard candy and more. For some of the children receiving boxes, this is the first gift they will have received in their entire life!
The first year our family filled one box. As our family grew, the number of boxes we filled did as well. One child, one box, two children, two boxes. Then one summer we were at a garage sale, my daughter was rummaging around in a "free bin" and my heart sank, knowing I was soon going to have to say "no" and "put those back" and dreaded the disappointment that would follow. My daughter came up to me with an armful of brand new "happy meal toys" and I said "honey we don't need anymore happy meal toys" and what she said melted my heart and changed our lives forever!
She replied "Mommy we can save these for shoeboxes!" My daughter was 3 at the time, even at that young age, this project touched my daughter, and made an impression on her. It was then I knew Operation Christmas Child was something special!
Not just for the children receiving boxes, but for those packing them as well!
As our love of shoeboxes grew we shared the project with our church. At first everyone just filled boxes and brought them in. One year a friend asked me how were were able to fill so many boxes. I told her if you purchased stuff right before the boxes were due it could get really pricey, but if you looked for items year round on sale you could stock up to fill even more boxes. That next year with a couple of us saving items year round we had our first shoebox packing party and it as grown from there...it has snowballed from there is more like it!
As our project got bigger and my friends outside of church started asking about it I got them involved as well. I have always been active in the crafting community. Friends started donating items, or supplies, and even selling items to help us raise money. I started holding crops to raise money and doing basket raffle fund raisers at the Scrapbook Expo. We held pancake breakfasts, and rummage sales. The money we raised at these events helped us purchase items that were not donated, and help to cover the shipping costs.
|Caleb packing a shoebox gift with his mom!
Joined by other enthusiastic members of not only our church, but my friends in the crafting community, local Girl and Boy scouts, we not only reached the goal of 1000 shoebox gifts we exceeded it! In 2012 we packed 1251 shoeboxes. In 2013 we set out to do the same and packed 1359 boxes! In 2014 we set out to do 1500 shoebox gifts and packed 2129 that all went to Ecuador!
It's amazing to see what the Lord can do! I like to tell people, "you take the little bits that everyone can do and add God to the mix you get a whole lot of AWESOME!" Our 2015 total was 3000 boxes, and from what we have been told that all of them went to Tanzania! 2016 set an all time high of 3965 shoebox gifts that went to children in; The Republic Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Philippines, Chad, and Central African Republic and one very special box to Paraguay! 2017 we hit 3032 and 2018 due to time constraints and life circumstances did 2410.
|Shoebox distribution in Ecuador
Over the years we have received many letters and photos from children receiving our boxes! As the world wide web has made the world a smaller place we have begun to hear from even more recipients who will find wi-fi access at an internet "cafe" or ask a willing relief worker to snap a photo and send an email!
|Our family photo with a family from Ecuador! The little girl receive a shoebox we had packed.
I can truly say it has been a community effort! People helped raise money through, basket raffles, pancake breakfasts and rummage sales. We had businesses donate supplies, a hotel donate soap, dentists donate toothbrushes and toothpaste. Crafters made hair pretties, jewelry, dresses, and toys. Companies donated items for us to raffle off. People from all over collect toys, school supplies and beanie babies and then the community came out in droves to help us pack boxes.
I am amazed and humbled to be a part of such a wonderful project. There is power in a simple gift, because that simple gift may be the first gift a chid ever receives. That gift my provide much needed school supplies to a child that doesn't have any. It might bring a child white socks that she needs to be able to participate in school. It might bring much needed soap, or even just a soft cuddly friend to snuggle with during a long cold night! Most of all that gift brings with it the good news of God's love and that knowledge that they are not forgotten about, someone out there cares enough about them to send them a gift!
|I told a local group if they met their goal
they could put a pie in my face! #CrazyShoeboxLady
Our 2019 goal is 2855 boxes. I know that number seems strange. But Since 2012 we have packed 17,145 shoebox gifts. If you add 2855 to that you have 20,000. 20,000 children blessed with a simple shoebox gift and the good news of God's love! An exceedingly abundantly more number!! I can't wait to see it happen!
We once again will be doing our basket raffle fund raisers at the Scrapbook Expos in Milwaukee, WI and Schaumburg, IL. March had a project featured at Craft Paper Scissors-Roll-up Checkerboard. In May our Sew-a-Thon is being kicked off by our friends at All Free Sewing. Plus we have partnerships with Jack Dempsey Needle Arts to again help us create sewing kits for our older girls and now Rainbow Loom is joining us to donate kits for the kids to make loom band bracelets!