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Operation Christmas Child delivers toy-filled shoeboxes
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Volunteers unload packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child at the local collection center, Lakewood Baptist Church.

To help

For tips and suggested donations for a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, visit Samaritan’s Purse website at www.samaritanspurse.org.

To volunteer at the collection site, visit Lakewood Baptist Church website at www.lakewoodlife.org and click Operation Christmas Child tab.

Operation Christmas Child collection times

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 16-20, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 21 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 22-23.

Where: Lakewood Baptist Church, 2235 Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville 

More info:  www.samaritanspurse.org or www.lakewoodlife.org

Most families around the holidays can’t live without several things: A turkey dinner with their loved ones; traditions such as Elf on the Shelf or last-minute shopping; dolled-up family photos; or Christmas cookies with hot chocolate and apple cider to wash them down.

Shayal is the complete opposite. She is more concerned about providing for her family than Christmas gift-giving.

Shayal lives in the Hindu village of Vunika, Fiji, with her  mother and younger brother. Her last name is not given to protect her identity.

As a teenager, she received a shoebox from Operation Christmas Child, a nonprofit outreach ministry from Samaritan’s Purse headed by Dr. Franklin Graham. This one small shoebox led to another Christian experience for her.

Shayal was invited to participate in the 12-week discipleship program, The Greatest Journey, which is offered to recipients of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Shortly thereafter, she accepted Jesus Christ into her heart. Shayal now shares her experience with others in her community.

Without the kindness of strangers packing a shoebox filled with toys, socks, stuffed animals and writing utensils, Shayal would never have heard about Jesus.

“I believe God is my father, so I don’t need another father,” she said, according to a Samaritan’s Purse Facebook post. “He is the father of the world. He says that if you seek me, I’ll be there for you.”

Shayal isn’t the only one who has benefited from Operation Christmas Child in the past 22 years. 

Individuals, churches, prayer groups and families have packed more than 124 million shoeboxes since 1993. It is “the world’s largest Christmas project of it’s kind,” according to the Samaritan’s Purse website (www.samaritanspurse.org).

J.J. Wiley, a 12th-grade Advanced Placement economics teacher at Chestatee High School, said his family has been packing shoeboxes for six years.

“We pack shoeboxes,” he said. “We volunteer for the loading of the trucks. And Callie (my wife) even made the promotional materials we use at church.”

Wiley’s two children also help.

“We asked Sam (our 4-year-old) what he thought other kids might want for Christmas,” Wiley said. “He said, ‘Boxes and bicycles.’ We will have to convince him to try and pick out something else.”

Before the Wiley family drops off their boxes, they follow one family tradition.

“Our family always prays over them, that the kids receiving the gifts will also receive the good news of Jesus,” he said.

He and several others in the Gainesville area will drop off their gifts at Lakewood Baptist Church at 2235 Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville. The church has been the designated collection center for seven years for Buford, Oakwood, Hoschton, Cornelia, Cleveland, Dawsonville, Dahlonega, Toccoa and Cumming.

The church aims to process 25,000 shoeboxes this year. However, it appreciates the value of each individual shoebox.

“We frequently stop the operation and have everyone hold a box and pray for the child who is going to receive it,” said Jim Lee, volunteer coordinator at Lakewood Baptist Church. “There’s a huge spiritual component to these boxes, and they should be handled in a special way because of that. They are not just another box.”

Collection week for Operation Christmas Child will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 16-20, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 21 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 22-23.

“Our job is to receive the shoeboxes from relay centers, which are the nine churches in our region, and then prepare them for shipping and send them off,” Lee said.

He said every year Lakewood fills 4 1/2 26-foot semis, which are provided by Samaritan’s Purse.

The processed shoeboxes make their way by trailer to the Southeast center in metro Atlanta for worldwide distribution, said Sammy Smith, representative of Rainmaker PR.

Shoeboxes are processed in the eight major U.S. shipping centers across the United States. Then shoeboxes are delivered to more than 150 countries and territories and dispersed to churches and ministry centers. The center then distribute them to children ages 2 to 14.

“The thing about OCC is that you know when you pack a shoebox a child is going to receive that gift and even more importantly they are going to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Lee said.

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