At center, Operation Christmas Child Area Coordinator Nelda Brown of Columbus, left, and OCC Regional Manager Jody McClellan show a new plastic OCC shoebox available this year, and a standard cardboard box, at a meet-and-greet Aug. 11 at Beans and Cream in Columbus. Looking on, from left, are Joan Hardin of Caledonia, Maureen Layton of Starkville, OCC Southeast Regional Director Shelli Wishard, and Jackie Culpepper and Sue Parker, both of Caledonia. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
August 19, 2017 10:28:55 PM
As summer fades and social media announces how many weeks remaining until Dec. 25, thoughts begin turning to Operation Christmas Child (OCC). A gathering Aug. 11 in Columbus gave the Golden Triangle a chance to meet OCC Southeast Regional Director Shelli Wishard and Regional Manager Jody McClellan, who are based in Alpharetta, Georgia.
The 2017 shoebox drive will culminate in National Collection Week Nov. 13-20. Until then, churches, Scout troops, clubs, school groups, individuals and families will be purchasing small toys, school supplies and hygiene items to pack in boxes to be distributed to children in more than 100 countries, many affected by war, poverty, natural disaster, famine and disease. The ministry is a project of Samaritan's Purse.
Nelda Brown, OCC area coordinator, is reminding the community of guidelines that take affect this year that prohibit two shoebox items that were popular in the past -- toothpaste and candy of any kind.
"This year is the first year without candy or toothpaste," Brown said. "This is due to increasing customs regulations in other countries. So instead, just simply add more toothbrushes. After all, in America we are told to change our toothbrush every three months or so. I have actually seen toothbrushes with the bristles almost gone because it was the only toothbrush a family had."
Also this year, new plastic, preprinted OCC shoeboxes are available from samaritanspurse.org. Preprinted cardboard boxes, as used in past years, are available from the site and should be available locally in coming months at various churches. Commercial shoeboxes or clear, plastic shoebox-style containers from numerous retailers are acceptable as well.
Also this year, box donors are asked to include $9 per box to help defray shipping and distribution costs, an increase from $7.
Upping the goal
This year's goal for the Columbus Collection Center during Collection Week is 47,000 packed shoeboxes. Last year, the center, which serves multiple counties, took in 42,966 boxes. Globally, 11.4 million boxes were collected in 2016, 9.1 million of those in the U.S.
Out of 969 churches recorded in the 10-county area served by the local center, 219 -- about 23 percent -- currently participate, Brown said. Forty-three community groups take part. "Imagine the impact of the Gospel if we could grow in the number of congregations that join in sending these gifts."
About 95 percent of the OCC network is volunteer, noted McClellan, and more are needed.
"We are looking to grow the area team in Columbus and the surrounding area," she said. "We're looking for people; there are many opportunities to volunteer. This is the world's largest evangelical children's event."
A shoebox gift is the start of planting a seed, Brown said. "Many children hear the name of Jesus for the first time when they receive one. Then they are invited to join The Greatest Journey Bible study." More than 2.5 million children have already graduated from the study.
Prayer is the most important thing in packing a shoebox, the coordinator said. "And the children love getting notes from those who have sent the box. We are told this is one of the most precious of gifts."
For more information, including suggested items to pack, go to samaritanspurse.org, email Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the First Baptist Church office at 662-328-3915.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.