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What would a shoebox containing a small toy or two and maybe a few toiletry items and a few pencils and perhaps a writing tablet mean to a small child at Christmas?
To children in third-world countries, with no running water or indoor plumbing, no electricity, living in poverty, such a meager package exemplifies the true meaning of Christmas, De’Anna Clark said.
"My daughter got a thank you note from a little girl she had sent a box to, and it meant so much to her,” she said.
“This summer, I received a letter from a girl in the Republic of Cameroon that received one of my shoebox gifts,” said Nancy Clark, 14. “Her name is Sandrine, and she is thirteen years old.
“She said, ‘When I received the shoebox gift, I knew that somebody somewhere loved me and I am glad that you are my friend.’ This makes doing the shoebox gift worth it, knowing that a child feels loved.”
Clark and her husband, Alan, for the past four years, have been serving as the regional coordinators of Operation Christmas Child, based at Shelby Christian Church, for Shelby and several surrounding counties.
Operation Christmas Child is an outreach ministry that was launched from the Samaritan’s Purse ministry in 1993, with 28,000 shoebox gifts. Since then, this nationwide ministry has distributed more than 95 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in third-world countries.
"We hope to exceed more than one hundred million this year," Clark said.
She said a small number of shoebox gifts, around 7,000, are sent to children in the United States to places like Indian reservations.
Several Shelby County churches are participating in Operation Christmas Child.
Jay Tignor, pastor at Finchville Baptist Church, said members of his church have donated approximately 70 boxes this year, a typical amount. He said that when he proposed the idea of getting involved with the ministry three years ago, the church members really embraced it.
"Most people don't ever get a chance to travel internationally on a mission trip, and being involved with this opens up the opportunity for them to do something to help children in impoverished countries," he said. "It gives them a chance to do something for children they will never get to meet face to face."
Clark said her three children, Nancy, Grace, 9, and Isaac, 18, look forward all year to getting the boxes together, something they have been doing since joining Shelby Christian Church 11 years ago.
"This is an ongoing thing for us all year long. We're always on the lookout for sales, and we're accumulating items all the time," she said. "This is the most exciting thing we do together as a family.
“And Grace, she's a go-getter; when we start putting the boxes together, she goes around and makes sure everybody is doing what they're supposed to be doing," she said with a chuckle. "I wouldn't be surprised if she heads this up one day."
Said Grace: “I like to pack a shoebox gift because I get a chance to tell a child about Jesus and to make a new friend.”
De’Anna Clark said to her and her family, the evangelical aspect of Operation Christmas Child, is very important.
“Although packing the tangible gift is a lot of fun, the most important reason we pack the shoeboxes is to lead a child and their families to the greatest gift of all – the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.”
Clark said that since Shelby Christian has been serving as the regional collection center for the past four years, Shelby Countians have contributed approximately 2,000 boxes each year.
"Shelby Christian alone usually does about seven hundred," she said.
Clark said she gets a kick out of seeing how some people decorate their boxes. Some wrap them in holiday paper, and some decorate them with colorful stickers.
But people should remember that they can wrap them but not seal them, because they have to be inspected by customs officials, she said. Also, the price of postage should be included in the box.
Clark said the suggested cost is $7. A check is preferred and should be made out to Samaritan’s Purse. People may also include a letter to the child and should include their return address, which should include the country, as the United States is not the only country that participates in the ministry.
Clark said all the shoebox gifts taken to Shelby Christian Church by Sunday will be packed into cartons by the church’s student ministry and will be taken to Louisville. From there, they will be transported to a huge processing center in Boone, N.C.
She said that although she does not usually know to which countries the boxes go, this year, she received a list of the 10 countries to which boxes from Kentucky will be sent: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Dem. Republic of Congo, Lesotho, South Sudan and Ukraine.
She said that she considers Operation Christmas Child to be a very worthy charitable endeavor, because international children are so much more in need than children in the United States, simply because of their poverty-stricken living conditions.
"In most of those countries, children don't have any government resources to help them," she said. "When we went to Haiti a couple of years ago, we saw children living in such poverty, it was unimaginable. It really put things into perspective."
Anyone wishing may drop off a shoebox packed with small toys, hygienic items and school supplies at Shelby Christian on Frankfort Road by Sunday.
For more information, visit www.samaritanspurse.org.
Shoeboxes may be brought to Shelby Christian Church at 2375 Frankfort Road from 4 to 7 p.m. today; from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday from 12:30 to 6 p.m. Several area churches are coordinating contributions, too.