Operation Christmas Child (OCC), a program offering simple items to children in need, has been a local-targeted charity for holiday donations for more than 10 years. This year, local residents are taking advantage of back-to-school deals at supply and department stores in preparation for a greater giving season.
“Often times you don’t need four huge boxes of colored pencils for $4,” said Anne Polk, OCC relay site coordinator for south Reno. “There are tons of deals on little items and chances to buy things in bulk, and our volunteers and donors hold on to them until November.”
Each November, OCC relay teams around the world fill shoe boxes with toys, school supplies, hygiene items and personal items like socks, sunglasses and mints. The goal of the project is to bring simple, often overlooked items to poverty stricken children and teenagers who may never have the chance to obtain them.
“Many of the children in the countries we visit have never had anything to call their own or have never been given a gift before,” said Kelsey Heng, media relations associate for OCC. “Each box is hand delivered and the people who travel for distribution always come back with so many stories. We have even had some full-circle stories of children who received a shoebox and were later adopted by visiting families and now they fill shoe boxes every year with us.”
Operation Christmas Child began in 1993 and has now grown into one of the largest Christmas projects of its kind, according to Heng. This year, the project estimates to reach its 100 millionth child in its 19-year existence of providing to Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama and other countries.
Polk said the collaboration of Sparks Christian Fellowship and South Reno United Methodist churches allows for more volunteers from the two areas to work together in collecting items for shoe boxes. She said shopping for and filling the boxes can be a fun family activity.
“Children really get into (making boxes),” she said. “My 6-year-old daughter has been making boxes for the last four years and she always wants to pick out her own stuff and give it to someone who is her age.”
The Reno-Sparks area donated almost 8,000 boxes in 2011, a majority of which went to children in the Philippines. Polk said the overwhelming response she sees from volunteers, as well as recipients, is gratitude.
“I know that a lot of people realize we are so lucky and that these boxes go to kids who maybe have never been given a gift in their entire life. Your heart goes out to not being able to give your own child something and I think that is what motivates people to give things to someone who really appreciates it,” Polk said.
During the holiday season, Polk said community members often wish they were able to give more than small quantities to stuff inside the shoe boxes. However, she ensures them “every donation counts.”
“One of the things I love about this organization is that one (donation) is just as important as 300,” she said. “To us, it is so important to thank those who take the time to do one box as it is to thank those who bring 300. People in these communities put in a lot of time and hard work.”
The National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child begins Nov. 12 when boxes will be crammed with gifts for children. Polk said it is just as important to know that war-related items, like guns or toy soldiers, or food and perishables should not be packed in shoe boxes.
To find out how to donate, volunteer or pack a shoebox, visit http://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/occ/.