Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

Hopewell Helps Give Gift of Hope to Children Overseas
By Sarah Steele Wilson, Newsroom Editor
Nov 21, 2012, 12:23

photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Colby Weston, Dawson Cloninger, Grant English and Reid Caricofe. Front row: Garland Reid, Zachary Blam and William Torres.

What began as a two person project to help Romanian orphans has grown into a world wide effort that has delivered Christmas gifts to 94 million children in impoverished and war torn countries throughout the world.

This year, Operation Christmas Child, which asks people in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia to pack shoe boxes full of toys that are then sent to children in 100 countries all over the world, hopes to deliver its 100 millionth box. That’s a goal volunteers are First Baptist Church in Hopewell are helping to meet by serving as an official collection site for this gifts.

For the local volunteers, collecting shoe boxes filled with toys for children on the other side of a world has also become a way to teach local children about the meaning of giving.

“It demonstrates to the children that there area kids just like them across the world who do not have the luxuries that they might enjoy,” said LeJeanna Raymond, coordinator for the local collection site, in an email interview. “So many times, our churches partake in projects that are too complex for little hands, but this project is perfect for kids, because they can shop for and pack the boxes themselves.”

Dorothy Strong, who was helping pack up the final shoe boxes collected by First Baptist Church in Hopewell, said that her 14-year-old grandson learned a lesson as he picked out gifts for a similarly aged boy somewhere else in the world.

“It makes them much more sensitive to the world, because we had to watch what we put in it,” said Strong. “We couldn’t have guns, we couldn’t have anything related to war, killing, anything like that.”

Strong said it made her teenaged grandson, and others who helped pack boxes, think about what things that are sources of entertainment in movies and video games in the United States might mean to children in countries ravaged by violence.

“It was kind of like an awakening for him,” Strong said. “What life must be like for those kids.”

Colonial Heights resident Cathy Daugherty, who was at First Baptist Church on Sunday afternoon to deliver a final set of washcloths made by the Prayer Shawl Ministry at her church, Colonial Heights Baptist, for inclusion in the boxes, said she had heard a story on the radio that confirmed her commitment to the project.

She was listening to the radio when a service member stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina called in to comment on the Operation Christmas Child ad that had just aired.

“He said, ‘I just want to call in and let you all know that when I was a child, I lived in Nicaragua and I received an Operation Christmas Child Shoe Box and I am here today in the United States because of that shoe box, and I have my faith because of that shoe box...that someone who didn’t know me cared enough to pack those toys which I didn’t have,’” Daughtery said, remembering the caller’s story.

“That’s an amazing story, to think that we have soldiers here today because of Operation Christmas Child. It just speaks volumes about what this project can do for a child. Who knows where they will end up when they’re grown up. It’s just an amazing, amazing project, what this does.”

Looking over a list at the church on Sunday afternoon, Mitzi Eubank said that about 300 local families had donated boxes.

“I think it brings everybody together as a family,” she said of the boxes.

Raymond, who said she suggested using First Baptist Church as a relay center for the area, agreed with that statement.

“It gets multiple generations excited an involved in a ministry project together,” she said in an email. “Operation Christmas Child does a wonderful job of putting faces to this ministry so that workers can see and hear from the children who are being touched.”

On Sunday afternoon, volunteers at First Baptist Church were busy packing the shoe boxes of toys into larger boxes and loading them into a truck bound for Tomahawk Baptist Church in Richmond. From there, they will be shipped overseas, where local leaders will collect the boxes and deliver them to children in need.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Zachary Blam pushes the final box filled with toys for children in other countries up the ramp into a truck.

“We partner with them throughout the year and we have a team of our staff that works purely with international logistics,” said Emily Ahalt, an Operation Christmas Child spokesperson, describing how the boxes get from here to there. “It’s quite a big project.”

Operation Christmas Child began, unofficially, in 1990 when Dave and Jill Cooke, of Wales, were watching a documentary about Romanian orphanages. The couple led a convoy of nine trucks filled with medical supplies, food, clothing and gifts into a country that had been devastated by war.

Ahalt said that within three years, the project became so expansive, the couple could not manage it on their own. That’s when Samaritan’s Purse, which describes itself as an international Christian relief and evangelism organization, stepped in to coordinate the annual effort.

Collection has closed at First Baptist Church, but people who still want to send a package to a child can visit to assemble a gift box for a child. The website also gives visitors a chance to donate online and track boxes around the world.

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