TRAVERSE CITY — Child to child, person to person, Operation Christmas Child makes a difference one life at a time.
As a national collection week begins today, area churches and individuals are packing shoe boxes with personal hygiene items, toys, school supplies, hard candies, shoes, hats, and other items.
Motivated to provide practical help to needy children worldwide, Operation Christmas Child has distributed 100 million shoe boxes since it began in 1993. Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan's Purse.
Shoe box collection efforts are being duplicated nationwide through November 19.
"We just love, love, love this ministry," said Leanne Deeren, director of children's ministry for Westside Community Church, which last year contributed more than 600 boxes. "It's just so precious, affecting the lives of children."
The church has been participating in Operation Christmas Child for about eight years. The children's ministry at the church is holding their annual packing party tomorrow; they will process more than 100 boxes from kids in preschool through fifth grade.
Each box includes a note and often a photo of the family or individual who packed it. That personal touch is the core of Operation Christmas Child: help from one heart to another.
Deeren relishes the story of a child in Africa who wanted to show a visitor his most precious possession.
"It was a picture of the American family from his Operation Christmas Child shoe box," she said.
The eight-county northwest Michigan region has a goal of 10,000 boxes this year, an ambitious but doable increase from last year's 8,700. Individuals, businesses and churches large and small all help make a difference one box at a time.
The size of the group matters less than their hearts for Operation Christmas Child.
"We've got some little churches that may have only 12-15 members and they turn out two or three dozen boxes," said Mike O'Connor, community relations coordinator for the northwest Michigan area team of Operation Christmas Child.
On Saturday, the Tabernacle in Buckley held a packing party that processed 326 boxes, a group effort that took fewer than two hours. The church is one of multiple relay centers in the northwest Michigan area.
"It's pretty cool, young people in the world can get things they couldn't get otherwise," said Yujiao Guo, 17, a senior at Traverse City West Senior High School, who also filled her own box and included a personal letter for the recipient.
After November 19, all Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes are processed at a central processing plant. There volunteers check the contents to ensure only accepted items are included before sealing the boxes. A $7 donation per box, encouraged to cover shipping, is also removed from each box at that time.
"We have awesome stories of how God works miracles with the shoe boxes," said Laura O'Connor, area coordinator for the northwest Michigan team. "I believe people are so generous when you can relay the vision of what Operation Christmas Child is all about."