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Christ Place Church bringing neighbors together with Operation Christmas Child
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Christ Place Church mobilization team Amandah McCann, right, George Thomasson and Sydney Mugume open boxes of items to be gifted to needy children as part of Operation Christmas Child Thursday, Oct. 18 at the South Hall church. The church is doing a different spin on Operation Christmas Child by setting everything up for people to pack boxes in the parking lots of stores. - photo by Scott Rogers

These days, George Thomasson spends his days weaving through towers of boxes as he prepares for Operation Christmas Child at Christ Place Church in Flowery Branch.

As the clock ticks toward Christmas, it’s historically been time for families to grab a box from the church, or provide one of their own, to take home and fill with little things for boys and girls in need across the world who might otherwise miss out on a Christmas surprise.

It’s a time to give and a time to bring a little joy those in need. Usually, it’s a simple event done at home, but this year, Thomasson had a different idea for the nationwide operation created by Samaritan’s Purse.

“We really wanted to take this effort out of the church walls and give our community an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of kids who are underprivileged around the world,” said Thomasson, pastor of mobilization at Christ Place. “We just want to be good neighbors and network with folks in our area, too.”

Instead of only being able to take boxes home from the church, Christ Place has started “Make A Difference Weekend” set for Oct. 26 and 27. The church will take the boxes out into the community, encouraging even those who aren’t church members to pack a box.

From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Oct. 26 and 8 a.m. to noon Oct. 27, volunteers from the church will be at different shopping locations around Hall County: Walmart and Ollie’s on Mundy Mill Road along with Five Below in Gainesville and Buford.

Shoppers walking into the stores will be greeted by the volunteers with shopping lists of things to buy and who will tell them about Operation Christmas Child. Then, guests can go in, buy the items for the children and bring them back out.

“It breaks our heart when we think about children that are so underprivileged that they really just don’t have anything,” Thomasson said.

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Christ Place Church community mobilization coordinator Sydney Mugume opens boxes with items to be gifted as part of Operation Christmas Child Thursday, Oct. 18. - photo by Scott Rogers

The weekend event is a one-stop shop as there will also be a tent as they leave the store where they can pack the boxes and put them on a U-Haul truck right away to be sent to the pickup location.

On Saturday, on top of the volunteers at stores, the church is encouraging its members to invite neighbors to their home to have a packing party, where they will pack shoeboxes — and maybe watch a little football.

He said the reason for that part of the weekend is “to get to know our neighbors.” After having his own neighbors over on the July Fourth weekend this year and learning they had never met each other after living there over a decade, he knew he had to help change things.

So he’s bringing people together over a good cause.

While it may seem like a simple task of buying small items and putting them in a box, Thomasson said it’s about much more to him.

“These are kids who wouldn't have Christmas apart from this,” Thomasson said. “They wouldn’t have a Christmas experience — and it’s not a church thing, it’s not a Baptist thing, it’s a caring thing.”

Last year, the church sent 3,000 boxes for Operation Christmas Child. This year, they bought 8,000, but haven’t set a goal. Thomasson said they’re “going to see what God will do.”

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Boxes of socks are unpacked Thursday, Oct. 18, at Christ Place Church for Operation Christmas Child to be shipped to needy children worldwide. - photo by Scott Rogers
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