HAZARD—Opening presents on Christmas Day is a tradition looked forward to by millions; tearing into a package to find an iPod, gaming system, or expensive jewelry has helped to perpetuate the excitement. But what if after shredding the Santa Claus wrapping paper all that was left was a bar of soap, a toothbrush, or some plain old school supplies?
New Hope Church in Hazard is sending just those types of presents to children in need across the globe with Operation Christmas Child, a program from Samaritan’s Purse that aims to ensure that needy children get a Christmas gift. Rae Ann Barnett, one of the organizers for the program, said anyone can participate by filling a shoebox or small plastic box with items for the children.
“It’s a mission program. What happens is people fill a shoebox with items, anything you can fit in there basically … and then they go all around the world,” she explained, adding that some people prefer to use plastic boxes so that they can later be used as water containers by the children, who mostly live in Third World countries or natural disaster zones. “When they get these to the places a lot of the kids will save right down to a piece of tape or plastic packaging.”
Barnett, whose father is the pastor at New Hope, said the church has been working with the program since its inception 20 years ago.
“My sister, she was a journalism major, she’s a school teacher now, but she went to work at Samaritan’s Purse in the PR department, and the very first year they started was the year she was there. So, my dad and I drove the first load over in my truck and packed them in one at a time,” Barnett said.
Though that first year only brought a load big enough to fill the bed of an S-10 pick-up truck, Barnett said last year the church collected over 2,000 boxes and hopes to get 2,500 this year.
Boxes are sent to children for ages 2-4, 5-9, and 10-14. Barnett said sending a box is a nice way to get a child interested in giving and teach them about helping others who are in need.
“A good idea is like if your child is 5, let them do a box for a 5-year-old with things that they would like to get and maybe let them write a letter and include a picture and maybe even a stamped, addressed envelope to themselves that way if someone got it they could write back,” she said.
The church has received numerous letters from children who have received boxes, some coming all the way from Africa and India, Barnett said.
Anyone wishing to make a box can add anything they want as long as it is nonperishable, Barnett explained. School supplies, books, coloring books, soap, hard candy, and small toys are staples seen in most boxes, which are checked by those at the church before being labeled for shipping.
“Last year, one church came and the women had made little dolls and crocheted items in every box, so that was a really nice box because they had something personal,” she said.
The church will be collecting boxes from Nov. 18-Nov. 24, 10 a.m. until 6 p.m and until noon on Nov. 25 at New Hope church, located in Gorman Hollow in Hazard. Barnett said every box collected is one that will be appreciated not just by the children who receive them but by those working to collect them.
“Most kids in this area wouldn’t want to get this box unless it was full of an iPod and a gaming system, but these kids, this is maybe all they have,” she said. “Everything’s appreciated that goes in them and they may never have anything else. This may be the only gift they get for their life.”