November 20, 2009 11:41:00 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Their shopping carts give them away. The plastic shoebox-sized containers, tiny toys, toothbrushes, school supplies and small, stuffed animals are sure signs of an Operation Christmas Child shopper. Golden Triangle stores have been filled with them.
As the Nov. 23 deadline for turning in boxes nears, churches, civic groups and individuals are out in force to fill their last containers destined for distribution to children worldwide by Samaritan''s Purse, Operation Christmas Child''s parent organization headed by Franklin Graham.
"Last year, almost eight million boxes were collected internationally; 124,533 of those in Mississippi," Nelda Brown told members of Soroptimist International of Columbus Tuesday at the Columbus Country Club. Brown is coordinator of the Columbus Collection Center, which serves as a collection hub for relay centers in Starkville, West Point, Aberdeen, Louisville and other cities in North Mississippi and West Alabama.
"At the Columbus center last year, we took in 14,707 boxes," said Brown. "That represented an increase of 18.5 percent from 2007. But our goal this year is 16,000 boxes."
Soroptimist and its Partner in Progress school, Sale Elementary International Studies Magnet School, together presented Brown with more than 60 boxes for this year''s campaign. They are among the many groups helping OCC reach its goal.
"This is the second year for the children to do gift boxes," said Sale School Principal Nancy Bragg, a Soroptimist member. "We asked each classroom to do a box for a boy and a girl. It really helps us to reinforce our international magnet school theme and helps teach the children to give something without expecting anything in return."
"You never know the power of these little gifts," Brown stated, passing around photographs of Sudanese children who received boxes. "Local pastors and teams distribute these to schools, orphanages, churches and to homeless children. They invite the children to come and receive a gift and to hear a Christ-centered message of love and hope."
Guidelines for gender- and age-specific gifts are available at the Columbus Collection Center at the Boy Scout Hut (next to the Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market) near the corner of Second Avenue and Second Street North. A $7 donation to help offset shipping is requested inside each container. An EZ Give option at www.samaritanspurse.org allows contributors to track what country their boxes go to.
Donors may use pre-printed cardboard boxes provided by OCC, or plastic containers with lids.
"A plastic box can be a place to store personal belongings for a child who has nowhere else to keep them," said Brown. "It can even be a container for grain. Some kids are literally at the mercy of the elements of the world."
Brown also encouraged donors to insert a letter with a short message and return address.
"These are inexpensive little items in these boxes, but some of them may go to a child who has never received a gift," she added. "Remember that what goes in the box is not nearly as important as doing the box."
Operation Christmas Child drop locations:
· Columbus -- Boy Scout Hut, Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market, corner of Second Street and Second Avenue North (662-328-3915).
Hours Friday, Saturday and Monday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 1-5 p.m.
· Starkville -- Starkville Community Church Relay Center, 1010 Lynn Lane (662-312-8832). Hours Saturday, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Sunday 2-6 p.m. and Monday 8 a.m.-noon.
· West Point -- Christ United Methodist Church, Churchill Road, across from West Point High School (662-574-2566). Friday-Monday, 9 a.m.-noon.
· Give online: www.samaritanspurse.org.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.