Kindergarteners at All Saints Catholic School, Cecilia Vandenburg and Elijah Tarin, show their shoeboxes Wednesday. The boxes are filled with gifts for children in other countries as part of the Operation Christmas Child project. (Amy Vogelsang Photo)
As the Christmas season starts to inhabit stores and minds, it’s easy to get caught up in sweater buying, gift-wrapping and bargain-scoping. But amid the planning and chaos, it’s important to remember those who can’t afford to scurry around for discounts or don’t have gifts to wrap.
Operation Christmas Child has changed the focus.
Instead of shopping for themselves, Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse that focuses on sending shoeboxes to children in need around the world.
These shoeboxes usually contain hygiene products, school supplies, a toy and often, a letter. For many kids, this is the first Christmas present they ever receive, and those who write notes will sometimes get a thank-you note in return.
Since 1993, more than 100 million children in more than 130 countries have received these shoeboxes, and although collecting items is a yearlong effort, the week of Nov. 18-25 is a big collection week.
To kick off this mass collection, students at All Saints Catholic School put together and brought in their boxes Wednesday.
“It’s for the kids from the poor who don’t have moms or dads,” explained kindergartener Cecilia Vandenburg, gripping between her small hands a “Vans off the wall” shoebox.
All Saints has chipped in with the project for the past five years, and every year there is more and more participation.
“It’s definitely a family project, something the children enjoy doing that comes from the heart,” said volunteer and All Saints Operation Christmas Child director Vivi Kreitz.
These kids are encouraged to write letters for their boxes, and many also include photos of themselves or their families.
Before sending the boxes off to the primary collection, the kids all raised their hands and prayed over their gifts.
In Roswell, the collection site is at Grace Community Church, 935 W. Mescalero Road, and under the direction of Teresa Davis-McKee. In Ruidoso, Lovington, Carlsbad and Artesia, it is at First Baptist Church. The boxes collected will be shipped to various countries where local volunteers will distribute the gifts to children.
This year’s U.S. goal is to send out 7.2 million boxes, while the project’s international goal is 9.8 million. People are encouraged to choose themes, like soccer or something universally popular, and steer clear of war related items, liquids, chocolate or any food items, except hard candies.
The boxes can be wrapped or decorated, just be sure to attach a printed label on the outside of the box determining the age group the box is meant for: 2-4, 5-10 or 11-14.
Last year, Southeast New Mexico collected 5,300 boxes, and it is always hoped to increase that number each year.
For more information visit samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child.