by John Dowd
This year’s Operation Christmas Child hopes to be bigger than ever. According to Greg Reinhardt, co-area coordinator for the nationwide program and elder for the Mosaic Church in Hamilton, they hope the area will fill over 8,500 boxes this year. This area includes the Bitterroot, Sanders County and Missoula. In Hamilton alone, the church collected over 300 last year, with another 200 brought in by individuals.
This year, they want to fill 500 boxes just as a church, alone.
The program started in 1993 with the Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian-based relief organization. Operation Christmas Child gives out shoeboxes for people to take home with them to fill for children in need in other countries. Donated boxes can be filled with anything a child may need, from toys to toiletries and school supplies to self grooming products. Once filled, boxes are returned to one of several locations in the area, one of which for the valley is the Mosaic Church. After that, boxes are shipped to one of eight processing centers across the country, which then forward boxes out to over 100 countries across the world. Since the start of the program, over 2 million boxes have been given to children in need.
Reinhardt said that many people may have trouble deciding what to fill the box with. Though there are item suggestions on the organization website, it is really up to the individual or family filling the box. Reinhardt said, in his experience, the box often naturally finds its way to the right child. Most of the boxes he has seen or heard of have seemed to contain something the recipient child really needed. He explained that a person should just put whatever they feel a child might require, often the first thing that pops into their head. According to Reinhardt, “The box is already going to the child God meant for it to go to,” and, “He knows who is getting what.”
According to Joan Rhodda, prayer coordinator and church project leader for Operation Christmas Child, “What really goes into the boxes is hope.” To her, the items that go into the boxes are always important for the children. However, receiving a box has a greater effect than that which the simple items can provide. “They realize they are not alone, there is somebody that loves them,” said Rhodda.
According to Reinhardt, many of the children are not used to receiving anything. He told a story of when he went on a trip to Uganda to help distribute boxes in 2012. A child there would not accept the box because he had never received a gift. The child assumed the gift was for someone else. After finally being convinced there was no catch and the box was in fact his, the child sat down with his box for a long time, bewildered that someone would do such a charitable thing for him.
They also encourage people filing boxes to include a note and possibly a return address. Often children are aided in sending a return letter or even a photo, so photos are encouraged as well. There is an option available online at the organization’s website to virtually pack a box. The process costs $25, which includes all the items and shipping.
In order to reach their goal, the church is hosting a chili cook-off and silent auction on Friday, Oct. 13. During the event, the church team will be playing music. According to Reinhardt, the music will be more than just church music, and will include numerous genres, as each of the participants is individually published as musicians and each have their own style.
“It’s amazing how well they can sound, coming from such different styles,” added Rhodda.
All the proceeds from the event will go to filling boxes. Everyone is welcome to come out to the cook-off, not just church members. Each chili will have a donation cup, and they will be voted on. There will also be sides available, like salad. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. and will go until all the chili is gone and the items are bid on.
“It’s not for our church, it’s for the boxes!” said Rhodda. The night is a good opportunity, according to Reinhardt, for people to come out and learn about the program and pick up a box.
People interested in filling a box can grab one at the church, or by calling the church to see how to get one. Boxes need a $10 donation, which covers the cost of shipping. Boxes should be turned in between Nov. 13 and 20, which is the national collection period. The church will be hosting its own “packing party” in late October, where they will load up all the boxes and get them ready to ship to a processing center.
For more information about Operation Christmas Child, visit www.samaritanspurse.org/occ. For information about the church, email email@example.com or call (406) 361-5455.