BELOIT- It can always be worse.
As rough as the economy may have seemed the past few years in the United States, most children are not going to be living in garbage heaps or sharing one towel with 19 other boys in an orphanage.
Operation Christmas Child can reach out to those children, offering shoe box gifts filled with items for their own that can mean the world to them, according to Kim Plichta, area coordinator for northeast Ohio, pointing to the orphan boy who upon seeing a washcloth in his shoe box exclaimed, "I have my own towel."
Susie Stroup, relay center coordinator for Operation Christmas Child at the Beloit Evangelical Friends Church, 18042 Fifth St., is surrounded by shoe boxes filled with personal items for needy children around world. Boxes may dropped off at the church from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 18 through 22, 10 a.m. to noon Nov. 23, 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 24 and 6 to 7 a.m. Nov. 25. Visit samaritanspurse.org for information about the project. (Salem News photo by Kevin Howell)
"It always seems the children get the right gift that they're supposed to have," she said.
The worldwide project of Samaritan's Purse founded by Franklin Graham, son of evangilist Billy Graham, collects millions of shoe boxes filled with personal items for needy children in more than 130 countries, last year surpassing the 100 million mark since its inception in 1993.
For the past eight years, the Beloit Evangelical Friends Church has served as a relay center in the Northeast Ohio Area Team for Operation Christmas Child. The Friends church has been packing boxes since 1995 or 1996, according to coordinator Susie Stroup, and as a relay center, serves as a collection point for churches in Salem, Sebring and Alliance, as well as for area organizations such as the Boys and Girls Scouts and those from the West Branch High School, taking in 1,389 boxes last year and aiming for 1,500 this year.
"A lot of people don't share their faith well, they stutter and stammer, don't know what to say," Stroup explained. "These shoe boxes are a tool for those who can (share the faith well). They encourage and equip them to do the work they do."
Shoe boxes can be filled with personal care items, toys, school supplies and candy, as well as a booklet sharing the Christmas story and the message of God in the language where box is sent. The boxes are filled according to ages and gender. Donors are also encouraged to provide a photo of themselves and a letter of encouragement for future correspondence.
The boxes can then be dropped off at the Beloit church from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 18 through 22, 10 a.m. to noon Nov. 23, 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 24 and 6 to 7 a.m. Nov. 25. The Abundant Life Fellowship in New Waterford also serves as a relay center.
"I believe strongly in let's give a child a gift, but ultimately let's give them God," Stroup said, encouraging those giving to fill boxes with whatever they have to offer. "We take so much for granted, that we just don't think of other's situations. Kids are growing up in environments that we just can't imagine."
According to Plichta, the shoe box gift is used to let needy children know they are loved and not forgotten.
"For many of these children, this is the only gift they'll ever, ever receive," she noted.
This year's goal is 9.8 million gifts internationally. Those in the U.S. are prepared and collected at more than 3,400 points across the country and shipped overseas.
To get started packing a box, visit samaritanspurse.org. The boxes cost $7 for shipping, and if paid for online, donors may print bar code and track package to where its shipped.
Plichta said she is trying to grow the area team, looking for people with a passion for the project and the opportunity to share God's love worldwide. Anyone interested in a year-round volunteer position should contact Plichta at 330-726-2477.