A wide smile stretches across Nelson Martin's face when someone mentions Operation Christmas Child. "It's such a wonderful thing. It just warms your heart to hear the stories that have come from these boxes," Martin said as he sat surrounded by tables of items to be packed neatly into special red and green shoeboxes called "GO" boxes. "That stands for God's Opportunity."
For Martin and his wife, Joyce, fall is a busy time for accepting donations and raising money to purchase all the items needed to fill hundreds of shoeboxes for children in need around the world. Last year over 50 area churches contributed to the over 6,500 boxes that were packed and shipped from the Free Methodist Church located on Troy Road. The church is just one of several drop-off locations across the state.
"We have churches from Sullivan, Martin, Knox, Daviess, Greene and Monroe counties all bring their boxes here and others donate items as well," said Martin. Each standard-sized shoebox is filled with school supplies, hard candies, small toys, small bars of soap, brushes and combs, undergarments, socks and more. "There are boxes packed for boys and girls. And those are divided up into three age groups. We do boxes for boys and girls ages 2 to 4, 5 to 9 and 10 to 14. What we put in depends on the age of the child," said Martin.
For instance, smaller children may get coloring books and crayons while a child in the 10 to 14 age group may get a flashlight and a calculator in addition to the hard candies, hygiene items and other toys. Boxes may also contain a special letter from its sender. Each box costs $7 to ship to its final destination. Those who choose to pay for the shipping costs online can track where their box is going.
Once the boxes arrive at their destination, they are delivered in a variety of ways including by camel and boat.
Martin said that each of the shoeboxes are packed into a larger cardboard carton. "We can get 21 shoe boxes into each of those boxes," said Martin, pointing a stack of large cartons across the room. "The bog boxes can't bulge or they won't stack up right when they get picked up from here. We have it down pat."
Not only can the larger cartons not bulge, but the individual boxes can't either. "Sometimes, we have to take games or toys out of the boxes or cut down the packaging to get everything to fit," said Joyce as she carefully cut around the edges of a carton. "It takes a lot of time sometimes, but we want each box to be nice and full."
So far the Martins, along with several volunteers have already packed well over 100 boxes and the official packing days have yet to start.
"We had a group that collected items for us and we went down to pick them up yesterday," said Martin. "When we got back, we had people here to help."
Martin said that items are still being collected for the shoeboxes but there are some items that cannot be accepted. "We can't send anything liquid or that could spill or bust in the boxes and no foods that melt," he said. "We can take hygiene items like wash clothes, soaps, brushes, small toys, and school supplies and undergarments."
Army men and other toys with weapons are discouraged. "We are always accepting donations and can always use volunteers to help with the boxes," said Martin.
Operation Christmas Child was started in 1993 and since then over 100 million boys and girls in more than 130 countries have experienced God's love through the shoebox gifts. Not only do the children receive the box, but they also receive the book "The Greatest Journey" in their language.
"They say those children take the book home and every member of the family reads it too," said Nelson. The books encourage the children to join a 12-lesson Bible study program and become followers of Jesus. At the completion of the Bible study program, each child receives a copy of the New Testament. According to information provided by Samaritan's Purse, the organization that is responsible for OCC, more than 650,000 children in over 65 countries have become Christians.
Officially, National Collection Week kicks off Nov. 18 and will run until Nov. 25. Over the course of the week, donations can be dropped off at the church located at 1155 Troy Road and volunteers can come help pack boxes. Collection and packing hours will be from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Nov. 18 through Nov. 23, from noon to 4 p.m. on Nov. 24 and 10 a.m. until noon Nov. 25.
For more information on Operation Christmas Child or to find out how you can help, contact the Free Methodist Church at 254-5440 or visit www.samaritanspurse.org and click on the Operation Christmas Child link.