This week’s holiday collection drive at First Baptist Church Gainesville is helping keep an international cause in good stead.
Organizer Johnny Bittick said area donations of gift-filled shoeboxes are flooding to the church in high volume on behalf of Operation Christmas Child, and by Tuesday, the items will have left Gainesville for shipment among 110 countries.
The local goal, he said, is 7,000 boxes, and he’s optimistic this will occur by week’s end.
“It looks like it’s going to be a good year,” Bittick said Wednesday.
Operation Christmas Child, initiated in 1992 by evangelist Franklin Graham and the Samaritan’s Purse organization, resulted in more than eight million boxes distributed during the end of 2011, and more than five million of them came from the United states.
Cooke County’s participation in the drive has recently resulted in up to 7,000 gift boxes gathered during a single year, which is why Bittick’s 2012 goal remains the same. The organizer said this year’s collection week was seemingly more well-advertised than in years past, and this has led to more donated boxes.
“I feel like just making them aware, more than they have been in previous years, have meant that people have responded well — not just here at First Baptist, but other churches as well,” Bittick said.
Collections began Monday at First Baptist Church Gainesville at 308 E. Broadway St., which will serve as the gift box “gathering point” through Sunday. Donors are urged to fill shoeboxes with non-perishable gifts and bring them to the church during the week of collection. Once received, the boxes are shipped to a sorting center in Denver, Colo., where they are opened and the items are examined. Donations are separated into three age brackets for children between the ages of 2 and 14 before being issued worldwide.
Bittick said Operation Christmas Child functions efficiently as an international gift outreach program, but it also evidently serves a second purpose in the field of Christian evangelism.
“This probably is the best foreign mission,” he said. “The numbers are that for every eight boxes delivered, there’s one child who makes a profession of faith. No other foreign mission that I’m aware of has that sort of number.”
Donors can use empty shoe boxes, special “Operation Christmas Child” boxes soon to be available at local churches or small plastic containers with snap-on lids. Gift suggestions include small toys (matchbox cars, tiny dolls, games); clothing such as ball caps, socks or T-shirts; hard candies, mints or gum in self-sealing plastic bags; and other practical items such as flashlights with extra batteries, hair brushes, bands or costume jewelry.
Participants are allowed to put just about anything in the boxes, but Bittick said the exceptions are violence-oriented toys, foods that can spoil and products that are not solid.
“I guess the one thing most common for people to pack that we have to take out is liquids, like lotion or shampoo or hand sanitizer,” he said. “Anything that’s liquid is not allowed to go.”
For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child call 1-800-353-5949 or visit www.samaritanspurse.org.