By CATHY MOUNCE
Register Staff Writer
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Operation Christmas Child is underway November 18-25 with the First Baptist Church (FBC) on East Broadway designated as the area’s official drop off location and consolidation point.
The Christmas ministry is under the umbrella of Samaritan’s Purse which is an organization directed by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.
Operation Christmas Child distributes shoe boxes filled with gifts to poor, sick and needy children all over the world.
The boxes are filled with simple gifts such as: pencils and note pads; small toys; small articles of clothing such as socks, handkerchiefs and underwear; toiletries such as tooth brushes, toothpaste, hard candy: soap and hair accessories; any other small articles that literally fit in the shoe box sized container.
A limited number of boxes are available at the First Baptist Church office in Gainesville. If necessary, standard size adult cardboard shoe boxes work well and can be decorated with festive Christmas wrap, colorful markers or stickers.
Clean plastic containers no bigger than a six quart size are encouraged but not mandatory. Many of the children are able to keep their gifts safe in the more durable plastic containers. The plastic box itself is literally another gift to each child.
The boxed gifts can be taken to the FBC office this week during office hours or dropped off during church service times.
FBC Life Group member and project coordinator Johnny Bittick said that the gifts go to children who may not have had the opportunity to own their own toothbrush or hair brush, let alone a Christmas present filled with needy items just for them.
“Sometimes, these boxes are the first and only Christmas gifts received by these children,” he said. “I recall a story when a little girl actually wished for a barrette for her hair and the box she received actually had one in it for her.”
“This is a wonderful program and it helps needy children all over the world by showing them that someone loves them and cares enough to send them a Christmas present,” Bittick continued.
Bittick said that the boxes should be tailored for each child bracketed for ages 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14. The boxes should each be identified for boys or girls. Once the boxes are collected at FBC, trucks pick them up and take them to a major consolidation point where they are separated and packed into larger shipping cartons that contain the same sex and age group. For example gift boxes for 2-4 year old boys are grouped together in the same shipping carton and marked accordingly for ease in distribution at destination.
Bittick said that last year Operation Christmas Child delivered over 100 million shoe boxes to over 155 countries all over the world.
“We locally collected over 8,000 shoe boxes last year and our goal this year is 10,000,” he said.
“Once they arrive at the various international destinations, the boxes are distributed by the local pastors who know the needs of the people in their parish,” he continued. “This initial shoebox can help the local pastors reach out to families in their community and help them share the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
According to the website, Samaritan’s Purse “is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan's Purse has helped victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God's love through His Son, Jesus Christ.”
For more information on assisting Operation Christmas Child in Cooke County, contact Johnny Bittick at 903 390 6603.