Operation Christmas Child under way across Southwest Louisiana

By By Warren Arceneaux / American Press

Shoeboxes full of Christmas treats are

being collected to make lasting impressions around the world through the

Operation Christmas

Child program.

The program collects donated shoeboxes packed with Christmas gifts and essential items such as school supplies and toothbrushes.

The shoeboxes are then donated to needy children in 100 countries around the world.

Last year 15,000 boxes were collected in Southwest Louisiana. The goal is to increase that total to 18,000 this year.

Operation Christmas Child is a project started by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief organization founded by Franklin Graham,

son of evangelist Billy Graham.

Dina Peters was the first local donor this year dropping off a trio of boxes at The Dwelling Place on Thursday afternoon.

“It’s just something I have heard about

over the years, I have three small kids and I wanted something to show

them that Christmas

is not just about getting things, it is about reaching out to

other people,” Peters said.

“I have a boy and two girls so we did a

boy box and two girls boxes. In the boys box we put a little

basketball, markers,

a note pad, Band-Aids, pencils, erasers, stickers, a tool set,

small things like that. In the girls boxes we had a little

baby doll, necklaces and the school supplies. Everett, 4, and

2-year-old twins Evangeline and Elynne helped pack the boxes.

“Christmas is about Jesus to us, that

is more important than anything else. The thought that you could reach

out to someone

that doesn’t even know him is great. The box is nothing to us, but

means a lot to them. I read somewhere about a family that

shared one toothbrush, so we put that in there, too.”

Local organizer James Groves has participated in the program since its inception.

“We have had tremendous response from the people of Southwest Louisiana,” he said.

“The recipients are kids who have been

devastated by poverty, war and disasters. Many of them have never

received a gift.

Some of the items in there are like soap, wash cloths, small toys,

real simple things they get real excited about. The group

of things we put in every box are school supplies, crayons,

toothbrush, toothpaste. There is always an anchor item like a

toy or stuffed animal or ball, then candy. We put candy in all of

them, we find that in a lot of the countries the boxes go

to, only rich people have candy. It’s a big deal for them.”

Boxes have been donated to 150 countries in every continent over the past two decades. Each year, 100 countries are chosen

to receive boxes.

Groves said that helping children around the world grow spiritually is rewarding.

“One of the most recent things to happen that has excited a lot of people associated with participating churches is a teaching

program that goes along with it,” he said.

“It is a discipleship program that

teaches kids about the Bible. The recipients have an opportunity to sign

up for that program

if they want to be a part of it. I went to Uganda a year ago and

found out a box of colors costs a week’s wages there. You

can imagine how excited kids are when they get that. Knowing that

you are making a difference in a child’s life and knowing

you are giving them hope and connecting them with ministries that

can help them spiritually.”

George Heard helps plan the logistics of collecting and sending out the donated boxes.

“My wife has been doing boxes for about 14 years. Once I retired from Chennault, I had more time to do things, and this is

a worthwhile and meaningful activity,” he said.

“I had the opportunity to go to a

conference with people who had received boxes as children. One young

lady, that was the

first time anyone had given her a gift. She was an orphan in

Russia. It was the first time that someone that hugged her and

told her they loved her. There were 22 girls in the orphanage

sharing one toothbrush. A shoebox was a life-changing experience

for her. It is hard for us to fathom that, but it is true. I have

seen the testimony. It is a blessing for us to do it, and

a blessing to those that receive it.”

Donors can follow their box to its final destination online at samaritanspurse.org.

“We encourage people to include a note

in the box, about who you are and where you live and maybe a little

prayer,” Heard

said. “We have received letters from people that received boxes we

sent. It is exciting to get that feedback. If you have

a picture, include that, and your name, church and address. It’s

meaningful to recipients and is a way to give gifts to people

who may never receive one. They look for the notes, they like to

know who cares about them, who sent them the gift.”

Trinity Baptist Church will present a

musical to promote Operation Christmas Child at 6 p.m. Sunday. The

humorous production

is written by Kathie Hill and is set at Fort Faithful, where

peace-keeping troops led by Sergeant Smarter with Private Eye,

Private Elvis Presby, and Private Gomer Smyle as Unit 12-25

embarks on a mission called Operation Christmas Child. Incorporated

into the story line is a message from Franklin Graham, along with

footage of children across the globe receiving their Christmas

shoe boxes.

For more information on the program, visit samaritanspurse.org or call James Groves at 405-9022.

For more information on the musical, call 480-1555.

What to donate

• Toys: Include items that children will immediately embrace such as dolls, toy trucks, stuffed animals, kazoos, harmonicas,

yo-yos, jump ropes, balls, toys that light up and make noise (with extra batteries), etc.

• School supplies: Pens, pencils and

sharpeners, crayons or markers, stamps and ink pad sets, writing pads or

paper, solar calculators,

coloring and picture books, etc.

• Hygiene items: Toothbrush, mild bar soap (in a plastic bag), comb, washcloth, etc.

• Accessories: T-shirts, socks, ball caps, sunglasses, hair clips, toy jewelry, watches, flashlights (with extra batteries).

• A personal note: You may enclose a note to the child and a photo of yourself or your family. If you include your name and

address, the child may write back.

• Do not include: Used or damaged items;

war-related items such as toy guns, knives or military figures;

chocolate or food;

out-of-date candy; liquids or lotions; medications or vitamins;

breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers; aerosol

cans.

Where to donate

• DeQuincy — First Baptist Church, 201 S. Pine St., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 18; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 19; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Nov. 20; 10

a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 21; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 22; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 23; 2-4 p.m. Nov. 24; 8:30 a.m.-noon Nov. 25.

• DeRidder — Temple Baptist Church, 122 Martin Luther King Dr., from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 18; 1-5 p.m. Nov. 19; 2-7 p.m. Nov.

20; 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 21; 2-7 p.m. Nov. 22; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 23; 2-4 p.m. Nov. 24 and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 25.

• Jennings — Bethel Ministries, 15147 Hwy. 102, 1-5 p.m. Nov. 18-20; 1-7 p.m. Nov. 21-22; 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. Nov. 23; 9 a.m.-noon

and 2-5 p.m. Nov. 24; 9-11 a.m. Nov. 25.

• Kinder — Bible Church, 323 N. Seventh St., from 4-6 p.m. Nov. 18; 3-6 p.m. Nov. 19-22; 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 23; 9 a.m.-12:30

p.m. Nov. 24 and 9-10 a.m. Nov. 25.

• Lake Charles — The Dwelling Place, 1800 E. College St., Noon-5 p.m. Nov. 18-21; Noon-6 p.m. Nov. 22; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 23;

2-5 p.m. Nov. 24; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 25.

• Leesville — East Leesville Baptist Church, 266 Alexandria Hwy., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 18-22; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 23; 8 a.m.-noon

Nov. 24; 8-10 a.m. Nov. 25.

• Sulphur — Maplewood First Baptist Church, 4601 Maplewood Dr., 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 18-23; 9 a.m.-noon Nov. 24; 9-11 a.m. Nov.

25.