The Athens Review
Christmas is rapidly approaching, and several organizations are preparing to make life better for the less-fortunate.
Dozens of Athens area residents will gather Saturday at the Jackson family home to participate in Operation Christmas Child.
“My family began packing shoe boxes 17 years ago when I was only a year-old. I do not remember a time without Operation Christmas Child,” Caryn Jackson said. “My parents have memories of me crawling around the living room floor among shoe-box items, as they and my older siblings packed shoe boxes for needy children around the world. It has always been a part of my life.”
The event will also be a celebration of the estimated 9,500 gift-filled shoeboxes to be packed by East Central Texas residents this Christmas.
Through Operation Christmas Child, the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, the Athens volunteers are helping make Christmas a little brighter for children living in poverty in more than 100 countries.
During National Collection Week, Nov. 18–25, shoebox gifts can be dropped off at one of 15 East Central Texas-area locations.
These collection centers are the first stop on a journey around the world for thousands of gifts packed by local residents. The boxes are then processed, prepared and delivered to hurting children overseas using whatever means necessary—boats, airplanes, trains and even elephants.
“Anyone, any age, can participate,” Jackson said. “Start with a standard size shoe box; fill it with school supplies, toiletries, small toys, and maybe even a letter to the child who will receive it; chose whether you want it to go to a boy or a girl and what age; rubber band it and drop it off at the nearest shoe box drop-off location.”
Jackson said an Athens drop-off location is located at 1700 S Palestine during the week of Nov. 18-24, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Operation Christmas Child, a project of international Christian relief and evangelism organization Samaritan’s Purse headed by Franklin Graham, has collected more than 100 million shoebox gifts since 1993. Through simple gifts and a message of hope, children learn they are loved and not forgotten. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Operation Christmas Child hopes to collect another 9.8 million gift-filled shoeboxes in 2013, with 9,500 coming from East Central Texas.
“Last year, I had the privilege to witness firsthand the desolation to which these boxes are sent. We distributed the gift-filled boxes to the poorest children in Ulan Bator, Mongolia,” Jackson said. “My team and I witnessed poverty in ways that are absolutely unknown to America. We saw families living in a garbage dump, children starving for love and affection. We saw hurt, brokenness and a hunger in their eyes that ran deeper than any kind of physical need.”
While the first glance of the country was tough, it was not long before they saw God at work.
“But we also saw God move and show up in most powerful ways in spite of it all. I learned most families in Ulan Bator go without food during the winter, because they have to spend their money on fuel for their heaters,” Jackson said. “I learned how orphan children who are living on the streets have to retreat to the underground sewer systems to keep warm, which makes them very susceptible to human trafficking. In this poverty stricken world, these gifts are hope to the children who receive them. Some cannot go to school because they cannot afford pencils, but when they receive school supplies in their box, they are given the opportunity to receive an education. This would not be possible without these simple items we take for granted every day.”
This Saturday, Jackson will gather with family and friends to fill 1,250 shoe boxes in the family backyard.
“We are excited we get to be a part of this amazing ministry helping to change the lives of children all over the world,” she said
For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child or to find the nearest drop-off site, call 817-595-2230, or visit samaritanspurse.org.
National Collection Week for gift-filled shoeboxes is Nov. 18 through Nov. 25. However, shoebox gifts are collected all year at the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in Boone, N.C.