Fill shoeboxes with holiday cheer through Monday

For Donna Smith, improving one child's Christmas is a matter of filling a shoebox with gifts.

Smith is a relay site coordinator at Jonesboro Baptist Church for Operation Christmas Child, a national program which began in 1993 and has collected more than 68 million shoeboxes filled with small gifts to give to children in need all over the world.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan's Purse, a Christian relief and evangelism organization.

Several years ago, Smith's daughter helped with the program during the holiday season and told her mom about how much she enjoyed it.

"From that point on, we've been a shoebox family," Smith said.

Jonesboro Heights has been a relay site for Operation Christmas Child since 2003, she said. From there, the shoeboxes move to larger collection sites, like Charlotte, and then on to one of six national processing centers.

When Jonesboro Heights first got started with OCC, 23 other churches also participated and 2,676 shoeboxes were collected.

Last year, 4,160 boxes were collected and 72 area churches participated, Smith said.

"OCC is catching. Once you introduce somebody to this project, they just love it," she said.

Other organizations, like the Sanford Women's Center and the Central Carolina Jaycees, also participate, she said.

"It's not just a church thing, it's not just a Jonesboro thing," Smith said. "It's just as simple as filling up a shoebox with items that a child would enjoy."

Things like school supplies, coloring books, small toys, stuffed animals and toiletry items are all suggested items to fill a shoebox; but OCC asks that liquids, breakables, chocolate and war toys be left out of the shoeboxes.

"You might think it's kind of confining, but you would be amazed at what you can fit in a shoebox," Smith said.

Even during a recession, it's important to give at Christmas, she said.

"These boxes are going to kids in third world countries," she said. "Our poorest poor people don't understand what these kids go through. It's still important to give kids some hope and some joy."

Buying gifts for a shoebox can be done economically, too, Smith said, and buying gifts from dollar stores is encouraged. She said some who've donated shoeboxes have filled them for $15.

Smith called OCC "the highlight of our Christmas."

"People want to do something that matters. This is an easy way to help a child," she said.

Smith said a $7 donation is also requested, to pay for shipping and handling.

But if those interested in putting together a shoebox don't have the extra $7, "don't let that stop you from doing one," she said.

Smith said she could talk about OCC "forever."

"I love it. I have a passion for it," she said. "It's an easy, easy way to make a difference."

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