MOUNT VERNON — A visit to the local Mothers Of Preschoolers with Children program in 1999 from Operation Christmas Child lit a spark of interest in Liz Springer for the charitable program. This quickly turned into a passion which she now takes quite seriously as her mission.
Operation Christmas Child, operating as a project of Samaritan’s Purse, is known as the world’s largest children’s Christmas project. The international organization coordinates the giving of shoeboxes filled with toys and necessities to needy children overseas. The program was started by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, in 1993, and has distributed more than 100 million boxes to date.
“It’s a real gospel opportunity,” said Springer of OCC. “A lot of these children have never received a gift, but they’ve also never heard about Jesus, either. And that’s a big, big part of this project.” With OCC, it’s not just about the gift but it’s about the fact that children, when they receive their box, are given a booklet, in their own language, full of Bible stories called “The Greatest Gift.”
In 2011, more than 8.6 million shoe boxes were delivered to children in nearly 100 countries. Recipients of the gift boxes are mainly identified by overseas missions project efforts.
Springer began her volunteer work locally in 2000 for OCC when she would bring boxes to the MOPS meetings and also to her church, New Life Church of the Nazarene, and have volunteers fill them up for distribution to needy children in the OCC program.
Donations of as many as 50 to 100 plastic shoe boxes with lids began to be collected each year from Walmart and Lowe’s to help out with the donation of items. “They don’t have to be plastic, but it makes it easier because the plastic ones can be more useable for the people overseas. They can use them in a special way,” said Springer. Volunteers are encouraged to take the shoe boxes home and return them filled with useful items.
Donors are given a list of suggested items on flyers, and lists are also posted on the OCC website. Items requested include school supplies, small toys (preferably soft and cuddly) and toiletry items. Liquids, aerosol cans, breakables, anything sharp, war-related items and meltable, soft candies are asked not to be included in the boxes.
Boxes are collected over a three-week period and taken to a collection site at Brandon Baptist Church, 13513 Sycamore Road. Volunteers are collecting boxes at the church from Nov. 12-19. Drop-off times for these dates are as follows: Monday, Nov. 12 from 12:30 to 3 p.m.; Tuesday 3 to 5 p.m.; Wednesday 10 a.m. to noon; Thursday 4 to 6 p.m.; Friday 4 to 6 p.m.; Saturday 10:30 a.m. to noon; Sunday 1 to 4 p.m.; and Monday, Nov. 19 from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Donations of items can also be dropped off at Brandon Baptist Church where volunteers will organize them into boxes. Workers to help organize the boxes are always welcomed, and monetary donations are also accepted to help cover shipping costs of the boxes. Those writing a check to cover shipping costs should make checks payable to Samaritan’s Purse.
Unless specified, gift boxes will be submitted anonymously. Donors can also know what country their gift box is going to by providing their name and email address which can be followed online through the “Follow Your Box” feature.
“Children really love to receive a photograph of who’s sending it or even a letter,” said Springer. “And if you have your address in there they may even send you a letter back so you can have some correspondence.”
Donations can be made online, and more information can be obtained by going to www.Samaritanspurse.org\occ.
“I know this is something the Lord has really put on my heart. It still affects me to this day. It’s just so touching,” said Springer, explaining how she still tears up when she sees videos of children opening shoe boxes. “It’s kind of become my mission. I just want to make a difference and get the word out about the Lord to these children, too.”
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