Denton Bible Church has a temporary building that’s slowly being taken over by gifts.
Stacks of special shoeboxes — green and red — contain Christmas presents that will be sent to needy children all over the world. And the crew of volunteers spearheading Operation Christmas Child — a project of Samaritan’s Purse, a global mission organization started by evangelist Franklin Graham — is ready for more donations before the boxes are loaded onto semi-trucks and ferried to Coppell, where the Operation Christmas Child processing center is located.
“We’re still working to get churches to pack boxes,” said Martha Anderson, a Samaritan’s Purse representative and Denton Bible Church member. “But businesses and organizations can pack boxes, too. We can go out and do a training for groups who are interested.”
The shoeboxes seem simple to American families who buy PlayStations, tablets and hoverboards for their children. Anderson said volunteers pack hygiene items, school supplies, clothes and accessories and a “wow” item.
“That’s something like a soccer ball or flip-flops,” Anderson said.
Nancy Miller, the Operation Christmas Child area coordinator for Denton and Wise counties, said the generosity of donors in North Texas is astounding.
“Last year, they processed more than 1 million boxes in Dallas,” Miller said. “And last year, Denton Bible moved 25,000 boxes from here. They loaded them up on two semi-trailers. A truck like that will hold 300 cartons of the boxes.”
Miller said the annual drive has become a tradition for some donors.
“We have a lot of people who shop Black Friday for items to put in a box and then take it directly to our processing center,” she said.
Miller also said Samaritan’s Purse has brought people who received the gift boxes as children to Denton and Wise counties to share the stories of how the boxes contained more than toys, clothes and craft supplies. One man traveled to Denton from Africa. Susan Lord, the project manager for Denton Bible’s Operation Christmas Child initiative, said the man recalled that his first-ever gift was one of those boxes, and he was 11 years old.
More than 168 million children have received boxes since the mission was started.
“In a lot of orphanages, all the children share bath water, washcloths, soap and toothbrushes,” Miller said. “Can you imagine one of those children opening a box and seeing a new toothbrush?”
Anderson said the volunteers have been touched by stories of generosity on the part of the young recipients.
“In some places, children break the pencils they get in their boxes so they can share the pieces with the other kids,” she said. “We heard about a girl who got a box, but her brother didn’t. Her father told her to give her brother something from her box. She did. On her way home, they kept meeting people who heard about the gift. By the time she got home, she’d given away almost everything in her box.”
Lord and Anderson said local groups have joined the effort. Good Samaritan residents have put sewing kits together for volunteers to make clothes. Trail Life USA boys and American Heritage Girls volunteer, and men from Freedom House, a Denton ministry that helps men recover from addiction, load boxes into the trailers.
“We have packing events here,” Lord said. “We have tables set up with the donated items, and people come in and help pack boxes. We have a family station set up so families with kids can help. And we really get into the Christmas spirit. We decorate this place for Christmas and have lights out front.”
Anderson said the drive ends before Thanksgiving, and that it doesn’t encroach on Advent, the season when Christians prepare for Christmas with contemplation, prayer and reflection.
“We work on this all year. People shop sales, and after school starts, we have people who buy school supplies on sale,” Anderson said. “The boxes are red and green, but this isn’t just a Christmas event for us. It’s an all-year effort.”