Connie Costello has heard the stories from volunteers who have helped distribute Operation Christmas Child gift boxes to impoverished children overseas:
In Bolivia, one child said, “I've heard of a gift, but I've never seen one.” In an African nation, children rejoiced because their boxes contained pencils — an item they had to have before being allowed to attend school.
“A lot of people just don't know how to help,” said Costello, northeast Indiana area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child. “This is an easy way to help.
“It is your chance to touch another person's life one on one,” she added.
Operation Christmas Child will be collecting shoeboxes of gifts Monday through Nov. 25 at three Fort Wayne locations: Sonrise Church, 10125 Illinois Road; Blackhawk Ministries, 7400 E. State Blvd.; and Life Bridge Church, 12719 Corbin Road. For collection hours at these sites, see the information box accompanying this story.
There are 15 gift box drop-off sites throughout the 15 counties in Costello's northeast Indiana area.
“Our goal is to have nobody have to drive more than 20 minutes or a half-hour to drop off a box,” she said.
Samaritan's Purse, a Christian ministry based in Boone, N.C., started the Operation Christmas Child program in 1993 to reach youngsters who don't know God and who live in severe poverty, Costello said. Fort Wayne has been involved actively since 1998 or 1999.
Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, each packed for an individual child, can be filled with whatever age-appropriate items the giver wants to include, except liquids. Costello also recommends box senders include a note and photos.
“It makes it so personal,” she added.
She also recommends wrapping the box with gift wrap. But the lid must be wrapped separately from the bottom because all boxes are inspected before being shipped overseas.
Most boxes will be sent by container ship, which means they won't arrive before Christmas, Costello said. They are distributed during the coming year.
Typically, Christian pastors hand out the gift boxes along with a booklet, “The Greatest Gift,” which talks about God giving his son, Jesus Christ, to save mankind from sin, Costello said. The booklet has been translated into more than 70 languages.
In areas where Christian items are not allowed, the children receive just the gift box.
Locally, organizers collected about 1,700 shoeboxes the first year. The collection totaled about 32,000 boxes last year, and Costello hopes to reach 40,000 boxes this year.
The project has been popular with churches, schools, Scout troops and others, she said.
But only about 20 percent of the churches in her northeast Indiana region participate, so Costello sees a lot of potential for growth.
She knows the need is great.
For every child who receives an Operation Christmas Child box, she said, more stand outside who won't get one.
“You can only pass out as many as you have,” she said. “We need more boxes.”