For the past four or five years, I have packed shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, which is run by Samaritan's Purse. Every winter, hundreds of us pack the boxes with toiletries, toys, candy and games to send to children around the world for Christmas. Most of these children have never received a Christmas gift or even had anything of their own (certainly nothing fun like toys).
Samaritan's Purse is a Christian organization, so their purpose is to reach people in poor countries with the Good News. Most children are shocked to get something, and so we display, in action, God's wonderful love.
In mid-November, my church gathers one evening to put boxes together, with several tables lined with toys, soap, washcloths, candy and fun workbooks. People grab a box and go down the line, filling it with something from each category. Others cut Christmas wrapping paper and give it to those filling the boxes to decorate. I feel glad to help, but the excitement in doing this does not equal making my own personal box with a note from me. It warms my heart to think that a child somewhere in the world has gotten this box, read my note, and knows that someone cares about them. Sometimes the child even writes back, which is great! Recently, a note in broken English was sent to my church from some schoolchildren thanking us for the gifts. It makes our helping even more real.
Although it only happens once a year, I believe this project makes a long-term impact on many lives. It's not just "stuff' that we're giving, but love and kindness and assurance that someone cares. It's so simple, and fairly cheap - just skipping a few trips to the movies will cover it. Of my many volunteering experiences, I have found this to be one of the most enjoyable and effective, even if all I do is pack shoe boxes.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.