Operation Christmas thanks

Dear Editor:

The best week of 2023 for me was Nov. 13-20:  National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child. Another amazing year of shoebox collection transpired at the drop-off located at Trinity Baptist Church in Keystone Heights.  

Unending generosity aptly describes our Lake Area Region.  I clearly saw this through Operation Christmas Child, an evangelistic ministry of Samaritan’s Purse. I am the team leader for the Keystone Heights central drop-off location. The 2023 global goal is 11 million shoeboxes filled with school supplies, hygiene items and fun toys.  Shoebox gifts have been delivered to over 170 countries since 1993. Would you believe 209 million shoeboxes were collected during this 30-year time frame?  The incredible number of 6,161 shoeboxes poured in locally to bless poor children all around the world! Three other drop-off locations transported their cartons of shoeboxes to us since we are the central drop-off location for the Santa Fe Region Area. The grand total amounted to 13,857 shoeboxes!  After inspection at the Atlanta Processing Center, these gift boxes will be delivered overseas. Through the Follow Your Box tracking system, we already know that some of our shoeboxes are being delivered to the countries of Cote d’Ivoire and Madagascar. An army of volunteers is required to pack, collect, inspect, and deliver shoeboxes to the delighted children, many of whom have never received any gift before.                             

I am thankful for each hand involved locally in this worldwide ministry.  I am always thrilled to see the donors with smiling faces and exciting testimonies. Our community unequivocally rises to the occasion. Stores and restaurants advertised with colorful posters. Starke Beall’s Outlet Store donated countless numbers of empty shoeboxes to wrap and pack. Red and green decorative OCC shoe boxes (known as Gospel Opportunities or GO boxes) were offered at Clyde’s Cozy Corner Café and Johnny’s Bar-B-Q. Johnny’s famous sign shared the location and dates for the collection of the shoeboxes.

McDonald’s once again donated Happy Meal toys as fillers.  Ladies crocheted hats and purses.  Handmade embroidered dresses found their way into the shoeboxes. Hundreds of handmade wooden cars and even some yoyos added fun to the gift boxes. The Lake Region Monitor published photos and articles.  Forty-two volunteers served to collect, count and cartonize the shoeboxes at the drop-off over eight days.  Strong men loaded 920 cartons onto three semi-trailers. Deserving recognition are the 38 churches and Christian ministries, four civic and school groups, and nine individuals and families who joyfully packed the 6,161 shoeboxes.  Shoeboxes came from 14 locations:  Archer, Gainesville, Green Cove Springs, Hampton, Hawthorne, Jacksonville, Keystone Heights, LaCrosse, Lawtey, Melrose, Penney Farms, San Mateo, Starke, and Waldo.

Moments of reflection with prayer were offered as each individual or group came in with their gift boxes.  It did not matter if it was one box or 100 boxes; we prayed over each and every one because each gift box represents one child who will receive it and also hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Sacrificial donors, you did another marvelous job! You are helping to change the lives of 6,161 boys and girls, ages 2-14.  Our global world has allowed us to touch the lives of many children in desperate need of hope.  Many emails and several letters were received this year from recipients of shoeboxes living in Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central Asia, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, Niger, and South Sudan.  Diing Garang Diing’s mother emailed us from South Sudan:  “As a parent, I pray that may God almighty bless you abundantly in your next endeavors as you continue to help spread the word of Christ and keep extending a helping hand to children worldwide.” A mother from Burkina Faso emailed:  “We thank you for the gift that goes straight to our hearts.”

Words of thanks are hardly enough to the Lake Area Region for your continued selfless giving of shoeboxes.  We are the hands and feet of Jesus when we give these wonderful gifts.  Pray for the children who will receive our shoeboxes packed in 2023.  Imagine the looks of awe as the children open these treasure boxes!   Whenever the shoeboxes arrive, it is Christmas! We celebrate each beautiful shoebox packed in this region with caring hearts.  A sincere thank you from my heart to each donor. Merry Christmas!

So very grateful,

Diane Michel

Team Leader Keystone Heights Central Drop-off Location

Operation Christmas Child