Operation Christmas Child is one of many programs run by Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization. Where there are disasters, there is Samaritan’s Purse providing everything from medical care to hands-on physical and spiritual help.
Each year at this time, donors fill simple shoe boxes with gifts of toys, hygiene items, and school supplies. They often include a personal note and $9 donation to cover project costs from collection to shipping, and training to distribution. Soon, their gift-filled shoe boxes will join the over 9 million others sent from the United States to find homes in the lives of children living in desperate situations. Best of all, the included booklet, “The Greatest Gift,” tells of God’s love for them. With trained teachers in their villages, many take the 12-week Greatest Journey discipleship program, after which, they share the story of Jesus to family, friends, and even their villages.
I want to blog about Operation Christmas Child in Road to Emmaus because this ministry reflects what Ecclesia! is all about — God’s congregation that includes the world and does not care what one’s denomination is. We are Christians. Period. We are church. Church is universal and it is individual. We are church. I am church. You are church.
Our fellow Finger Lakes Area Operation Christmas Child Team member, Nona Kelly, is church, and this is her story, written by my friend, fellow writer, and Operation Christmas Child media team partner, Karen Black.
Nona Kelly was on her way to vote when she heard, on the car radio, the testimony of a young Bosnian girl who shared what her life was like before and after receiving an Operation Christmas Child shoe box.
“It was a remarkable story,” Nona, age 55, recalled. “Before she was done, I was moved to tears while feeling every emotion in the spectrum –sorrow, sadness, excitement, glee.”
By the time she had arrived at the poling place, Nona decided she wanted to learn more about Operation Christmas Child.
“After visiting the Samaritan’s Purse website, I knew I wanted to get involved,” she said. “I purchased a carton of shoe boxes, not having any idea who I could get to participate, but definitely wanted to spread the word. As it turned out, I gave 32 shoe boxes out that year at work.”
The following year, Nona attended a workshop at Fairville Fire Hall, where she met the Operation Christmas Child Finger Lakes Region Co-coordinators, Pat and Joel Slesak, along with a couple of team members, and decided to join the team as a project leader.
Nona wanted to increase the number of shoe boxes collected from the previous year, so she set a goal of 50. But by the end of October, and with the Collection Week fast approaching, she had not reached her goal.
“I decided to use the Halloween costume contest at work to help spread the word,” Nona explained. “I took a large shirt I’d gotten at the workshop and made a collage out of it that showed the journey of a shoe box. The shirt featured Alex, a shoe box recipient, whose story really touched my heart, at the receiving end of the shoe box journey. To be sure to draw attention, I put sets of Christmas jingles around the bottom of the shirt.
“I carried with me a large bag adorned with balloons that perfectly fit 15 assembled shoe boxes with informational papers inside,” she continued. “Another bag held pamphlets and a couple of pins I was planning to give as a thank-you to the first two people that participated.”
The real attention grabber was a hat to which Nona had tied, tacked, and stapled freebie items to start each box, including assorted pictures of smiling faces opening shoe boxes.
But on the day of the contest, a last minute meeting was scheduled, greatly reducing the amount of time Nona had to walk around to spread the word.
“I hurried into work, got my costume and bags on in the locker room, and saw I only had about 30 minutes to travel the plant and offices to share shoe boxes,” Nona said. “I looked at myself in the mirror and suddenly felt a wave of inferiority,” she recalled. “I told myself I was such a dork, but God would get me through this. Then I felt outright fear. What am I dressed as? Oh no! I don’t know what to call myself other than dork! Wait a minute. I’m a project leader for Operation Christmas Child! That’s it!”
Off she went to get her picture taken for the costume contest. All along the way, she told people she was a Project Leader for Operation Christmas Child and shared the purpose of the shoe boxes.
“By the time I made it to the picture taking point I was down to 6 shoe boxes,” she said. “My hat was getting bare. God was taking care of things and the boxes were on their way to making a difference in the lives of children who desperately needed them. As I came to the end of my 30 minutes, I had only two boxes left, jingles missing from my shirt, and an empty hat. The last two boxes were given away as I entered my meeting.”
Nona was elated the rest of the day, especially after receiving the $25 gift card for winning the “Most Creative” category of the costume contest.
“That gift card helped fill a couple more shoe boxes,” she added. “God is awesome!”
Did she meet her goal of 50 boxes? No. She exceeded it, with 62 boxes collected that year.
Today, Nona serves as a year- round volunteer for Operation Christmas Child and uses her creativity and enthusiasm to spread the word at local churches, clubs, and summer festivals. One of Nona’s coworkers, a self-described atheist, has helped her with the project.
“He told me,’I’m so excited to take part in this just because of your passion for it and how much you know about it. You ought to get this person and that person. I bet so-and-so would fill one too!” she said. “He was so excited he took a second box for his girlfriend to fill. He was glowing. All I could do was smile and think, ‘there goes a closet Christian and he doesn’t even know it yet. All in God’s Time.'”
If you are interested in filling a shoebox and want to know the nearest drop-off location in your area visit https://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/drop-off-locations/