HEAVY LIFTING — Bob Mattison from Gramco Inc. helped load up his truck with shipping boxes full of Operation Christmas Child gifts. Photos by Lizz Schumer.
SPRINGVILLE — This Christmas, more than 1,000 more children will have a present to open, thanks to the Operation Christmas Child relay center at The First Presbyterian Church of Springville.
The program is sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational, evangelical Christian organization with a stated mission of “providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people, around the world,” according to www.samaritanspurse.org.
Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has distributed shoeboxes full of toys, hygiene products and other items, to children around the world. The church, which has been acting as a local relay center, has been collecting donations from Springville, Sardinia, Gowanda and other surrounding towns, for the past 14 years.
OPERATION HELPING PEOPLE — Steve Bly takes another trip down the ramp during the truck load-up with Operation Christmas Child gifts at First Presbyterian Church.
On Nov. 19, volunteers loaded up a donated Gramco truck with approximately 130 shipping boxes, each containing shoeboxes for children in poverty-level countries. Although the boxes’ destinations change, from year to year, past locations have included Ghana, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The First Presbyterian boxes traveled to Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church, where a set of tractor trailers would be filled with contributions from churches located around the area. Those will be sent to the Operation Christmas Child headquarters in Boone, N.C. Representatives there will ensure the boxes get to the children, according to program organizer Sherry Bly.
A statement from Samaritan’s Purse said that it reached the 100 million boxes mark during its National Collection Week, Nov. 12 – 19.
Bly said that it all began when friends of hers, Rob and Nina Hansen, returned from a seminar for medical missionaries, where they had first heard about this type of project.
“They told us about Operation Christmas Child and we looked into how to get involved,” Bly said. “Samaritan’s Purse is very well organized.” She noted that many people, including herself, will look for shoebox items all year long, to send to the children, at Christmas. Individuals, schools, businesses and other organizations all send shoeboxes to First Presbyterian, to add to the piles of presents.
LOAD EM UP — Volunteers loaded the Gramco truck with boxes of Operation Christmas Child donations, which were sent to their next distribution point on Nov. 19.
“We fill a shoebox with hygiene products, school supplies, toys and always a stuffed animal,” she explained. “No matter what the age or circumstances of the child [who receives the box, he or she is] always happy to have something soft to snuggle. We also include toys and candy and, when the box is finally given out, they also get a storybook, called the “Greatest Journey,” about Jesus and his love.
“It’s a big, thick, colorful book,” Bly continued. “[Volunteers] work with the children for weeks, teaching them about Jesus. Sometimes, this is the only Christmas gift that child has ever seen. I’ve heard all kinds of stories about how [Operation Christmas Child has] touched these children’s lives, and it’s just so heartwarming and so amazing to hear.”
In addition to Operation Christmas Child, Samaritan’s Purse also leads disaster relief and other evangelical efforts, which Bly called “a really amazing outreach ministry.”
The church also participates in other charity organizations and drives, in the area, including Warm the Children and Love In The Name of Christ.
Bly noted that she and her husband Steven “could not do it without” the 35 other volunteers who have helped with this program.
“So many people have donated their time and helped us put it all together,” she said. “It’s so much about the kids, about this good that can be done, that it’s very exciting to see it all come together and spread the word, about this ministry.”
More information about Operation Christmas Child may be found at www.samaritanspurse.org
or by calling 1-800-353-5949.